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When the body's response to infection in the blood starts affecting its tissues and organs, it is called sepsis. Read the article to know more about it.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Goswami Parth Rajendragiri

Published At June 19, 2019
Reviewed AtMay 31, 2024

What Are Sepsis and Septicemia?

Sepsis is a severe inflammatory response to infection. It can be fatal. Usually, the body releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight against any infection in the body. But, when this defense mechanism is out of control, it leads to a severe condition called sepsis.

Septicemia is nothing but having the causative bacteria in the bloodstream that leads to sepsis.

What Causes Sepsis?

Any infection can lead to sepsis, for example bacterial, viral or fungal. But, the following are the most commonly seen:

1. Pneumonia.

2. Digestive system infection, mainly involving the stomach and colon.

3. Urinary tract infection.

4. Infection in the bloodstream (bacteremia).

What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

An adultpatient must have at least two of the following symptoms along with proven infection:

1. Altered mental status like mental confusion, delirium, etc.

2. Rapid respiratory rate (more than 22 breaths per minute)

3. Low blood pressure (less than 100 mm Hg).

The other common signs and symptoms associated with sepsis are:

1. Increased heart rate.

2. Fever.

3. Hypothermia.

4. Chills, dizziness, fatigue.

5. Shivering.

6. Shortness of breath.

7. Facial flushing.

8. Decreased urine production.

9. Shock.

10. Sleepiness.

Septic shock is a dangerous condition and is characterized by severe drop in systolic blood pressure, pale and cool extremities, deceased or absence of urine output, short and rapid breath, fast heart rate, behavioral and temperature changes.

What Are the Stages of Sepsis?

There are basically three stages of sepsis:

Stage 1: Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome

A very low or high fever, increased heart rate, and respiratory rate, difference in white blood cells count and infection.

Stage 2: Severe Sepsis

Acute dysfunction of organ starts. Sepsis is present with low blood pressure or decreased blood flow to an organ.

Stage 3: Septic Shock

Most severe stage. There is the presence of low blood pressure due to sepsis, despite resuscitation by fluids. There is the presence of elevated lactate levels and has the highest chance of death.

Is It Contagious?

Sepsis is not contagious or transmissible. But, it does spread throughout the body in an infected person. But, in some cases depending on the condition, it can infect other people too. Hence, it is necessary to maintain personal hygiene.

What Is the Incubation Period?

There is no specific incubation period for sepsis. It totally depends on the type of infection, microorganisms involved and the host.

What Are the Risk Factors of Sepsis?

The following are at greater risk of sepsis:

1. Very young or elderly.

2. Illness due to an infectious agent.

3. Patients in ICU.

4. Weak immune system.

5. Medical history of some previous illness.

6. Patients using devices like IV catheters, breathing tubes, etc.

7. Extensive burns.

8. Trauma or severe injury.

What Are the Complications of Sepsis?

It may affectthe blood flow to organs and even the formation of clots in organs leading to tissue death and organ failure.

How Is Sepsis Diagnosed?

Initially, a blood test will be done to diagnose any infection in the bloodstream, followed by urine tests, mucous and wound secretion tests. If required, MRI, CT, ultrasound and X-rays can be done.

How Is Sepsis Treated?

Sepsis can progress to septic shock very easily and hence, immediate management with following medications is done:

  1. Antibiotics are given through IV to cure the infection.

  2. Vasoactive medicines which will increase blood pressure.

  3. Insulin will maintain blood sugar levels.

  4. Corticosteroids will control or minimize inflammation.

  5. Analgesics to manage pain.

In severe sepsis. IV fluids may be necessary along with assistance for breathing. Dialysis may be required in cases of kidney infection.

Sometimes, even surgeries may be carried out to remove the infected tissue or draining a pus-filled abscess. This is aimed to remove the source of infection.

How Is the Prognosis of Sepsis?

It depends on the severity of sepsis and the patient’s health status. But, patients with septic shock have high chances of death.

How Can Sepsis Be Prevented?

It is necessary to maintain good health and hygiene and getting vaccinated to stay away from infections. If there is a wound or injury, get tetanus injection as per protocol, if required along with maintaining the wound hygiene. In case of any infection, get treated from the doctor as soon as possible and this mainly applies to people with high-risk status.

Sepsis in Newborn and Geriatric Patients

Sepsis in newborn is also called as Neonatal sepsis or sepsis neonatorum. It involves any infection affecting the infant during the first 28 days of birth or life. The infection may involve the whole body or just one organ.

Sepsis in geriatric patients has the most common source as respiratory or genito-urinary tract infections. They are at high risk of getting infections from multidrug-resistant organisms.

Sepsis is a dangerous condition and can lead to death if not managed properly and on time. With the help of online medical platforms, it has become easy to get guided and diagnosed about sepsis along with guidance on the treatment plan.

Frequently Asked Questions


What are the early signs of sepsis?

The presence of at least two of the following early symptoms are used to diagnose sepsis:
- If the body temperature is above 38℃ (101℉) or below 36℃ (96.8℉).
- If the heartbeats per minute are more than 90.
- If the breathing rate is more than 20 breaths per minute.
- Suspected or confirmed infection.


Is it possible to cure sepsis?

When sepsis is detected early on, and treatment is started promptly, most patients recover with no long-lasting complications. But, if it is left undiagnosed and untreated, it can result in multiple organ failure and death.


How long does sepsis take to kill a person?

Without treatment in time, sepsis can quickly damage the tissue, resulting in organ damage and death. In cases of severe sepsis, it can kill a person in almost 12 hours.


How long can one have sepsis without knowing?

Sepsis always follows some severe infection in the body, more commonly infection of the respiratory or urinary tract. It can also be a complication of some recent surgery. As the symptoms might start with a fever, pain, and chills, sometimes the symptoms of sepsis are misinterpreted as the normal healing process. The symptoms sometimes mimic flu, so it is possible to overlook it.


What are the most common causes of sepsis?

Sepsis can result from any type of infection, but the most common causes include respiratory infection (pneumonia), genitourinary infection (urinary tract infection or kidney infection), or abdominal infection.


Are sepsis and blood poisoning the same?

Blood poisoning is not a medical term but is used to describe the presence of bacteria in the blood. It is used by people to describe sepsis, bacteremia, or septicemia.


What tests are done for sepsis?

If the doctor believes that you might have sepsis, then your blood or other bodily fluids will be sent to the lab to check for the presence of bacteria. And to identify the source of the infection, the doctor might suggest you get a CT or an MRI.


Can you get infected with sepsis from someone?

No, it is not possible to get sepsis from someone. Sepsis cannot be passed from one person to another through sexual or any other contact. But the infection in the person with sepsis can spread to the entire body through the blood.


Can a tattoo result in sepsis?

Tattoos, or in that matter any piercing or cut, can serve as an opening for the bacteria to enter the body and cause infection. This infection, in some rare cases, can result in sepsis. So if you get a tattoo, make sure you are extra cautious and avoid infections.


Is sepsis a medical emergency?

Yes, it is. Sepsis can rapidly damage the tissue and organs of the body and cause death. So in case you or a person you know develop signs of sepsis, get them to the emergency room immediately.
Dr. Goswami Parth Rajendragiri
Dr. Goswami Parth Rajendragiri



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