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 the heart, kidneys, liver, and brain. It can lead to organ failure and a dangerously low blood pressure called septic shock.

Risk Factors

Any infection can lead to sepsis. The risk is higher in people who are under 1 year of age or over 65 years of age. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • A weakened immune system from illness or medical treatment
  • Chronic health conditions such as HIV, diabetes, cancer, kidney or liver disease



Early symptoms may be:

  • Fever
  • Low body temperature
  • Fast breathing or heartbeat
  • Changes in thought process, awareness, behavior, mood, and other mental processes
  • Weakness

Early warning signs may be:

  • An infection that is not getting better or is getting worse
  • Feeling worse or not improving after surgery


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may suspect sepsis based on recent infection and physical exam.

Blood tests will be done to check the infection. Pictures may be taken to help find the infection and track the health of the liver and kidneys.



Early, intense treatment in a hospital is needed. 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. Options are:

  • Antibiotics to fight the infection
  • Fluids sent straight to blood flow through an 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. Options are:

  • Oxygen therapy to increase oxygen in the blood
  • Mechanical ventilation to help with breathing
  • Dialysis to support the kidneys

Sepsis is a serious illness. It will take some time to fully recover. There may be some physical and emotional challenges.


The risk of this problem may be lowered by avoiding infections. Care for cuts or wounds and seek medical help if they are serious or not healing as expected.

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.