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Learning About Sepsis

Patient with ventilator, in hospital bed

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is an intense reaction to an infection. It can cause deadly damage to the body and lead to dangerously low blood pressure. You may have inflammation across large areas of your body. It can damage tissue and even go deep into your organs.

Sepsis can develop very quickly. It requires immediate care in a hospital.

Infections that can lead to sepsis include:

  • A skin infection such as from a cut.
  • A lung infection like pneumonia.
  • A kidney infection.
  • A gut infection such as E. coli.

Symptoms can include low blood pressure, breathing problems, fast heartbeat, and confusion. Other symptoms include fever or low body temperature, chills, cool clammy skin, skin rashes, and shaking. Sepsis can cause problems in many organs.

People with sepsis might need to be treated in an intensive care unit (ICU) for several days or weeks. An ICU is a part of the hospital where very sick people get care.

Septic shock is sepsis that causes extremely low blood pressure, which limits blood flow to the body. It can cause organ failure and death.

How is sepsis treated?

Doctors will treat the person with antibiotics. They will try to find the infection that led to sepsis.

Machines will track the person's vital signs, including temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate, and pulse rate. The person will get fluids through an IV. He or she may also get strong medicine. This can help raise the blood pressure.

If a person with sepsis is very sick, equipment in the ICU can support many body systems. That includes breathing, circulation, fluids, and help for organs like the kidneys and heart. If the person needs help breathing, a ventilator may be used.

What can you expect when someone has sepsis?

The person may start new treatments while still in the hospital. Different doctors may help with different symptoms.

If a person needs to be treated in the intensive care unit (ICU), the ICU staff will do everything they can to treat all of the problems sepsis causes, including the infection. The ICU can be scary and confusing for patients and their families, friends, and supporters. But it's designed to keep your loved one comfortable and safe and to provide the best medical care.

Expect a long recovery after the person leaves the ICU. If you need it, ask for support from friends and family.

Where can you learn more?

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