Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to an infection. The body normally releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight an infection. Sepsis occurs when the body’s response to these chemicals is out of balance, triggering changes that can damage multiple organ systems. The heart, lungs, brain and kidneys can be involved. Common symptoms include fever, increased heart and breathing rate, confusion. Intensive care is often required.


If you or someone in your area is showing symptoms of sepsis, seek emergency care.


Most people occasionally get some infections. They can almost always be treated. In rare cases, a bacterial infection can activate inflammatory immune response that is called sepsis. The elderly and people with serious illnesses or impaired immune system are affected more often than others. Mortality rates associated with sepsis are relatively high – at least one in ten dies, often due to organ failure that wasn’t corrected in time. However, it is unusual for children and healthy persons under 50 to become seriously ill.


Sepsis is a reaction to an infection. Your immune system tries to fight the infection, but instead the chemicals it releases start to attack your body. This creates a reaction that causes fluid to leak out of the blood vessels, blood pressure drops and your organs get too little oxygen, which leads to organ failure.


Pneumonia is the most common cause of sepsis. Some urinary tract infections that are not treated on time or properly (urosepsis) can also lead to sepsis. Sometimes abdominal infections and bloodstream infections can be the cause.


It can also be caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which are most common in connection with hospital stays. Sepsis can also be caused by bacteria that enter the body through wounds, catheters or dentures.


The risk of sepsis is greater for the elderly and people with serious illnesses or impaired immune systems. Prolonged cortisone therapy and immunosuppressive drugs are also the risk factors, as they affect the immune system.


Sepsis affects the whole body. The heart beats faster, fever rises, and you get frozen and struggle to breathe. Many people also have severe abdominal pain or pain in other parts of the body. It can be difficult to communicate with the affected person, because sepsis sometimes leads to unconsciousness.


Common symptoms include:


  • high heart rate
  • low blood pressure 
  • rapid breathing 
  • chills and fever
  • confusion and anxiety (common in the elderly)
  • severe abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting
  • decreased urination.


Septic shock is a life-threatening condition characterized by problems with blood circulation and extremely low blood pressure, that appears in the form of pale and sweaty skin with cold hands and feet (because of the low oxygenation of the blood).


Both sepsis and septic shock are life-threatening conditions that require emergency care.


Sepsis in children

Children are rarely affected by sepsis, especially if they are vaccinated according to the vaccination schedule. The symptoms are the same as in adults, but you should also pay attention to purpura (blue-red dots on the skin that do not fade under pressure). 


Sometimes, sepsis is associated with meningitis – in whicn case headaches, fever and neck stiffness are the main serious symptoms.

Prevention and protection

Taking steps to prevent the spread of infection can reduce your risk of developing sepsis. These include:


  • Staying up to date with vaccinations. Get vaccinated for the flu, pneumonia, and other infections.
  • Practicing good hygiene. This means practicing proper wound care, handwashing, and bathing regularly.
  • Getting immediate care if you develop signs of infection. Every minute counts when it comes to sepsis treatment. The sooner you get treatment, the better the outcome.


In cases of sepsis, an emergency medical examination is required. It includes blood cultures, sometimes in combination with x-rays. The treatment is initiated very quickly and usually includes giving fluids and antibiotics intravenously, directly in the bloodstream. Many patients also require support for their major organs: breathing, blood pressure, blood circulation and kidney function. In most cases, intensive care is required during the first days of hospitalization.

When to consult a doctor

If you or someone in your area is showing symptoms of sepsis, you should always seek emergency care; call and wait for an ambulance.

How APPOTEK can help

APPOTEK cannot help in cases of sepsis.


Valeria Chernikova, Neurologist, M.D.