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Sepsis: Care Instructions


Sepsis is an intense reaction to an infection. It can cause 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.

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.

Sepsis is treated with antibiotics. Your doctor will try to find the infection that led to sepsis. You'll also get fluids through a vein (IV). Machines will track your vital signs, including temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate, and pulse rate.

The physical and mental effects of sepsis may not be seen for several weeks after treatment. And they may last long after the infection is gone.

Physical problems may include:

  • Feeling weak and tired.
  • Feeling out of breath.
  • Aches and pains.
  • Problems with getting around.
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Dry and itchy skin, brittle nails, and hair loss.

Some of these effects can lead to problems with your organs or your feet, legs, hands, or arms.

Sepsis can also affect your mind and emotions. Problems may include:

  • Self-doubt.
  • Anxiety.
  • Nightmares.
  • Depression and mood problems.
  • Wanting to avoid other people.
  • Confusion.
  • Flashbacks and bad memories of your illness.

It's important to care for yourself and try to avoid infections. This may lower your risk of getting sepsis again.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Help prevent infections that could again lead to sepsis.
    • Try to avoid colds and influenza (flu). If you must be around people who have a cold or the flu, wash your hands often. And get a flu vaccine every year.
    • Ask your doctor if you need a pneumococcal vaccine (to prevent pneumonia, meningitis, and other infections). If you have had one before, ask your doctor if you need another dose.
    • Clean any wounds or scrapes.
  • Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. When you quit smoking, you are less likely to get a cold, the flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Choose water and other caffeine-free clear liquids until you feel better. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet every day.
  • If your doctor recommends it, try doing some physical activity. Walking is a good choice. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk every day.
  • Talk with your family and friends about your challenges. Ask for help if you need it.
  • Keep a journal. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help reduce your stress.
  • Ask family members to fill in gaps in your memory.
  • Set small goals for yourself that you can reach. Reward yourself for success.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms such as:
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Feeling very sick.
    • Severe pain.
    • A fast heart rate.
    • Cool, pale, or clammy skin.
    • Feeling confused.
    • Feeling very sleepy, or you are hard to wake up.
  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have a fever or chills.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.