Sepsis

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a whole-body response to an infection in the blood. This severe condition is also known as blood poisoning. Sepsis occurs when an infection spreads from one location (for example, the lungs, the bladder or the skin) into the blood. Elderly people and people with other medical conditions are at higher risk of getting this condition. The main symptoms include fever, chills, confusion, rapid pulse and drowsiness. Sepsis needs to be urgently treated in a hospital, and is treated with antibiotics and fluids.

Risks

Elderly people are at higher risk of developing sepsis, though it can affect people of every age. People with some medical conditions, such as cancer, a weakened immune system or diabetes, are at increased risk of this condition. Sepsis occurs when an infection spreads from one location (for example, the lungs, the bladder or the skin) into the blood. This causes a whole-body response, as the immune system tries to fight the infection.

Symptoms

Symptoms of sepsis are fever or feeling cold, chills, a strong feeling of illness, drowsiness, a fast pulse, fast breathing and confusion. As the sepsis gets worse, people may have very cold and blue hands and feet, urinate less and lose consciousness altogether. There are also signs of the underlying infection. These vary depending on where the infection has begun.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is often made from the appearance and physical examination of the affected person. Blood tests are taken to prove that an infection is the cause of the symptoms, to check the function of organs that might be affected by sepsis and to identify the cause of sepsis.

Treatment

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition which must be treated in a hospital. Sepsis is treated by giving antibiotics against the cause of the infection and fluids to increase blood pressure. The cause of the original infection should be identified and treated or removed.

Prevention

It is important that infections (such as pneumonia, bladder infections, skin infections), are assessed early by a doctor and treated with antibiotics. People who are at increased risk of vaccine-preventable infections (such as the elderly, and people with other medical conditions) should make sure they keep their vaccinations up to date.