The body releases chemicals into the blood to help fight infections. Sepsis is an extreme form of this reaction. Excess chemicals are released into the blood. This causes a chain reaction that can slow or stop blood flow to organs. The low blood flow causes damage to major organs like heart, kidneys, liver, and brain. It can lead to organ failure and a dangerous low blood pressure called septic shock.
Early symptoms may include:
- Low body temperature— hypothermia
- Fast breathing or heartbeat
- Changes in thought process, awareness, behavior, mood, and other mental processes
Early warning signs may include:
- Infection that is not getting better or is getting worse
- Feeling worse or not improving after surgery
Early, intense treatment in a hospital is important. The sooner treatment is started, the better outcomes tend to be. The goal of treatment is to clear the infection. This will break up the harmful chain reaction. Support will also be needed to limit damage to organs. Steps may include:
- Antibiotics to fight the infection
- Fluids sent straight to blood flow through IV
- Medicine to improve blood pressure and blood flow to organs
- Medicine to manage blood glucose or pain
Surgery may also be needed to clear out infected tissue.
Advanced care will depend on which organs are affected. Steps may include:
- Oxygen therapy to increase oxygen in the blood
- Mechanical ventilation—to assist breathing
- Dialysis—to support kidneys
Sepsis is a serious illness. It will take some time to fully recover. There may be some physical and emotional challenges.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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a (Blood Poisoning; Septicemia)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov
Infectious Diseases Society of America http://www.idsociety.org
Alberta Health http://www.health.alberta.ca
Public Health Agency of Canada https://www.canada.ca
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Sepsis treatment in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T316889/Sepsis-treatment-in-adults. Accessed January 28, 2021.
What is Sepsis? Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/sepsis/what-is-sepsis.html#anchor%5F1547214212. Accessed January 28, 2021.
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