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What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction to an infection which is sometimes referred to as blood poisoning. This is an infection that occurs when germs get into the bloodstream and spread. The germs are usually bacteria but also can be viruses or fungi..

Sepsis is the body's overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death

Sepsis can move from a mild illness to a serious one very quickly, which can be very frightening for patients and their relatives.

This abnormal reaction of the immune system can happen to anyone in response to any infection but it is most common with bacterial infections such as pneumonia (chest infection), meningitis or urinary tract infections (water infection).


Who is at risk of getting sepsis?

There are some groups of people that are more at risk of developing sepsis than others, these include:

  • Older age
  • Very young babies
  • People on medication which decreases their immune system such as steroids, Azathioprine or Methotrexate
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic kidney or liver disease
  • Admission to intensive care unit or longer hospital stays
  • Invasive devices, such as intravenous catheters or breathing tubes
  • People who have cancer especially if they are on chemotherapy
  • Women who are pregnant or have just given birth

Common sources of sepsis

Sepsis common sources

Signs and Symptoms of sepsis

Sepsis symptoms


If you or your relative have any of these symptoms and are concerned, visit your GP or attend the Emergency Department.

In an emergency call 999.

How is sepsis diagnosed?

Sepsis is diagnosed when a doctor or nurse thinks you have an infection, they will take your observations such as blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, breathing rate and oxygen levels. Sometimes you will need to have blood tests and x-rays to confirm infection and how serious it is.

What happens to you when you get to hospital?

If you or someone you know starts to develop signs of sepsis they should be taken to hospital so that treatment can be started as quickly as possible. Once sepsis has been diagnosed you should receive the following treatment:

  • Oxygen may be given if required
  • Blood samples will be taken, some of these are to try and identify the bacteria that is causing the infection
  • Antibiotics to fight the infection, these may include intravenous antibiotics that go through a vein or in tablet format
  • Fluid may be administered through a vein which will increase the blood volume and try to increase your blood pressure if it is low
  • You may require a catheter if you are not passing much urine, this will help the nurses and doctors monitor how much fluid is going in and out


Are there any long term effects of Sepsis?

Usually a full recovery is expected from sepsis given timely treatment. Sometimes some organs may not function as well as they did before. This should be discussed by the discharging doctor in each individual's case.


'I have to compliment everyone on their pleasant persona and their expertise and knowledge. By the end of the 5 days, I did not feel as though I had been in a hospital ward and was very relaxed.'

Patient, Ward 16 Orthopaedics, University Hospital of North Durham