Sepsis is an illness in which the body has a severe, inflammatory response to bacteria or other germs.
Septicemia; Sepsis syndrome; Systemic inflammatory response syndrome; SIRS; Septic shock
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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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 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26903338.