Sepsis: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment


Sepsis is a serious medical emergency occurs when your body tends to have an extremely life-threatening immune response to an infection. The infection may be much associated with certain organ or tissue such as skin, urinary tract, lungs, or somewhere else, leading to a chain reaction throughout your body. Left untreated, it may further worsen your condition and progresses to septic shock, resulting in organ failure, tissue damage, and even death.

It happens when the body releases immune chemicals into the blood to combat the infection. Those chemicals trigger widespread inflammation, causing blood clots and leaky blood vessels. In consequence, blood flow is impaired, and that deprives organs of nutrients and oxygen and leads to organ damage.

There are over 1.5 million cases of sepsis each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source. It claims more than 250,000 Americans’ lives a year. Thought it may affect people at any age, it is more commonly found in infants younger than 1, pregnant women, older adults, and people who have weakened immune systems, or have chronic conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, AIDS, kidney or lung disease.


Sepsis can be the result of any type of infection: Bacterial infection, viral infection or fungal infection. Among all the causes, the most likely types of infection may include:

  • Bloodstream infection (bacteremia)
  • Pneumonia
  • Infection of the kidney, bladder and other parts of the urinary system
  • Infection of the digestive system (involving organs such as the stomach and colon)


Basically, sepsis can be divided into three stages: sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock. It’s very likely that you get sepsis while you’re still in the hospital recovering from a surgery, but it’s not always the case. You’re high recommended to seek immediate medical help if you notice any of the following symptoms.

Stage 1: Sepsis

Note: You must have at least two of the symptoms below to get yourself diagnosed.

  • Suspected or confirmed infection
  • Heart rate higher than 90 beats/min
  • Breathing rate higher than 20 breaths/min
  • A fever above 101ºF (38ºC) or below 96.8ºF (36ºC)

Stage 2: Severe Sepsis

Sepsis progresses to the second stage when there’s organ failure. You must have one or more of the following symptoms to be diagnosed with severe sepsis.

  • Extreme weakness or fatigue
  • Decreased urination
  • Difficulty breathing and maintaining sober
  • Abnormal heart functions
  • Patches of discolored skin
  • Changes in mental ability
  • Low platelet (blood clotting cells) count
  • Chills due to fall in body temperature

Stage 3: Septic Shock

When sepsis progresses to the third stage, affected people will have symptoms of severe sepsis as well as a very low blood pressure.

Neonatal Sepsis

It’s worth mentioning that newborns with sepsis may present some symptoms slightly different to those of adults. Possible symptoms and signs may include:

  • Fever
  • Pale color
  • Listlessness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Jitteriness
  • Not breastfeeding well
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Low body temperature
  • Apnea (temporary stopping of breathing)
  • Poor skin circulation with cool extremities
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)


If you suspect that you or someone around you might have sepsis, you’d better check it out with a professional who will provide a precise diagnosis based on your or the patient’s condition. To pinpoint the underlying causes, doctors may order several tests. Possible tests are listed below:

Blood Tests

Doctors may order blood tests to look for evidence of infection, impaired oxygen availability, electrolyte imbalances, clotting problems, or abnormal liver or kidney function.

Imaging Tests

If it’s hard to locate the site of infection, your doctor may order one or more of the following imaging tests: X-ray, computerized tomography (CT), ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Other Laboratory Tests

Depending on your symptoms and the result of your blood tests, your doctor may also want to run one of the following tests:

  • A Urine test to check for signs of bacteria in your urine
  • A wound secretion test to check for an infection and determine which antibiotic might work best
  • A respiratory secretion test to identify germs responsible for an infection


To prevent sepsis from developing to the last stage (septic shock), doctors may use a great number of medications. If you’re diagnosed with sepsis, it’s vital that you take these medications as directed. Possible medications may include: Painkillers, insulin to stabilize blood sugar, corticosteroids to reduce inflammation, antibiotics via IV to fight infection and vasoactive medications (vasopressors) to increase blood pressure.

If sepsis progresses to the later stage, large amounts of IV fluids and a respirator for breathing are required. Dialysis might be necessary if the kidneys are affected. In dialysis, a machine would play the role of kidneys to perform their functions. In some cases, doctors may conduct a surgery to remove the source of an infection. This includes draining a pus-filled abscess or removing infected tissue.

Related Posts

What Are the Treatments of Sepsis?

What Causes A Sepsis (Blood Infection)?

What Is Septic Shock?

How to Diagnose Sepsis?

What Are the Stages of Sepsis?

Keywords: sepsis, sepsis shock

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.