Symptoms, Doctors, Treatments, Research & More

Condition 101

What is the definition of Sepsis?

Sepsis is an illness in which the body has a severe, inflammatory response to bacteria or other germs.

What are the alternative names for Sepsis?

Septicemia; Sepsis syndrome; Systemic inflammatory response syndrome; SIRS; Septic shock

What are the causes for Sepsis?

The symptoms of sepsis are not caused by the germs themselves. Instead, chemicals the body releases cause the response.

A bacterial infection anywhere in the body may set off the response that leads to sepsis. Common places where an infection might start include the:

  • Bloodstream
  • Bones (common in children)
  • Bowel (usually seen with peritonitis)
  • Kidneys (upper urinary tract infection, pyelonephritis or urosepsis)
  • Lining of the brain (meningitis)
  • Liver or gallbladder
  • Lungs (bacterial pneumonia)
  • Skin (cellulitis)

For people in the hospital, common sites of infection include intravenous lines, surgical wounds, surgical drains, and sites of skin breakdown, known as bedsores or pressure ulcers.

Sepsis commonly affects infants or older adults.

What are the symptoms for Sepsis?

In sepsis, blood pressure drops, resulting in shock. Major organs and body systems, including the kidneys, liver, lungs, and central nervous system may stop working properly because of poor blood flow.

A change in mental status and very fast breathing may be the earliest signs of sepsis.

In general, symptoms of sepsis can include:

  • Chills
  • Confusion or delirium
  • Fever or low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Lightheadedness due to low blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Skin rash or mottled skin
  • Warm skin

What are the current treatments for Sepsis?

A person with sepsis will be admitted to a hospital, usually in the intensive care unit (ICU). Antibiotics are usually given through a vein (intravenously).

Other medical treatments include:

  • Oxygen to help with breathing
  • Fluids given through a vein
  • Medicines that increase blood pressure
  • Dialysis if there is kidney failure
  • A breathing machine (mechanical ventilation) if there is lung failure

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Sepsis?

Sepsis is often life threatening, especially in people with a weak immune system or a long-term (chronic) illness.

Damage caused by a decrease in blood flow to vital organs such as the brain, heart, and kidneys may take time to improve. There may be long-term problems with these organs.

How do I prevent Sepsis?

The risk of sepsis can be reduced by getting all recommended vaccines.

In the hospital, careful hand washing can help prevent hospital-acquired infections that lead to sepsis. Prompt removal of urinary catheters and IV lines when they are no longer needed can also help prevent infections that lead to sepsis.


Munford RS, Suffredini AF. Sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 75.

Shapiro NI, Jones AE. Sepsis syndromes. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 130.

Singer M, Deutschman CS, Seymour CW, et al. The third international consensus definitions for sepsis and septic shock (sepsis-3). JAMA. 2016;315(8):801-810. PMID 26903338

Latest Research

Latest Advance
  • Condition: Extremely-Low-Birth-Weight (ELBW) Infants with Acute Kidney Injury (AKI)
  • Journal: BMC nephrology
  • Treatment Used: Acute Peritoneal Dialysis (PD)
  • Number of Patients: 12
  • Published —
This study evaluated the outcomes of extremely-low-birth-weight (baby born very prematurely weighing between 14 to 35 ounces at birth; ELBW) infants with acute kidney injury (abrupt loss of kidney function; AKI) treated with peritoneal dialysis (way to filter the blood when the kidneys are not working well; PD).
Latest Advance
  • Condition: Open Abdomen
  • Journal: Cirugia y cirujanos
  • Treatment Used: Sequential Closure of Abdominal Wall
  • Number of Patients: 24
  • Published —
This study demonstrated the effectiveness of a new surgical technique designed for the management and closure of the abdominal wall in patients with open abdomen.

Clinical Trials

Clinical Trial
Diagnostic Test
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Study Type: Diagnostic Test
  • Participants: 51645
  • Start Date: May 1, 2022
Gram Type Infection-Specific Sepsis Identification Using Machine Learning
Clinical Trial
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Study Type: Drug
  • Participants: 153
  • Start Date: January 2022
Sevoflurane Sedation: A Potentially Promising Immunomodulation in Patients With Septic Shock