Sepsis in adults: signs and symptoms
What is sepsis?
This information leaflet aims to explain some of the signs of sepsis and what to do if they occur.
Sepsis is a life-threatening illness caused by the body’s abnormal response to an infection. Your own immune system will normally protect you from an infection but sometimes it may need some help. It is possible for your immune system to go into overdrive in response to an infection – when this happens sepsis can occur.
Sepsis develops when chemicals that the immune system releases into the bloodstream to fight an infection, cause inflammation throughout the whole body. Severe cases of sepsis can lead to septic shock.
Each year in the UK, it is estimated that more than 150,000 people are admitted to hospital with sepsis and around 44,000 people will die as a result of the condition.
Who is at risk of developing sepsis?
Anyone can develop sepsis after an injury, illness or minor infection, although some groups of people are more vulnerable than others:
- people with an existing medical condition or receiving treatment which weakens their immune
system, such as chemotherapy, steroids
- the very young or very old
- pregnant people or those who have recently given birth
- people who have had recent surgery or those with wounds or injuries as a result of an accident
What are the signs of sepsis and when should I seek medical advice?
It can be difficult to tell the difference between an infection and when it is developing into sepsis.
If you have, or have recently had, a fever and develop any of the following symptoms then call 111 or contact your GP for advice and say “SEPSIS”. If you or your loved one is extremely worried, go straight to your nearest Emergency Department (A&E).
- Slurred speech or confusion
- Extreme shivering or muscle pain
- Passing no urine (in a day)
- Severe breathlessness
- “I feel like I may die”
- Skin that is mottled or discoloured
If you suspect sepsis, ensure that you receive urgent medical attention. Do not be afraid to say: “I think this may be sepsis”.
If sepsis is confirmed, treatment – even one hour earlier – can make the difference between life and death
How is sepsis treated?
If sepsis is detected early, and the vital organs have not yet been affected, it may be possible to treat the infection at home with antibiotics. Most people who are detected early make a full recovery.
There is a sepsis care bundle which is a group of medical interventions which need to be delivered together within a timeframe of 60 minutes.
If the medical team feels you could be septic, these six interventions will be delivered to you in a timely fashion:
- Oxygen is given if you need it
- Antibiotics are given – usually intravenously if you are in hospital
- Intravenous fluids are given and your urine output measured
- Blood samples are taken to assess organ function and for microbiology cultures
- A separate blood test is taken to measure lactate levels. The build-up of this acid in your body indicates how unwell you are
- A senior doctor or nurse will review your care
Admission to intensive care may be needed to care for people with sepsis or septic shock* if they are very unwell. This is where the body’s organs can be supported until the infection is treated.
In most cases – with correct, timely treatment – you will go on to make a full recovery.
*Septic shock is a life-threatening condition that can happen when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level due to an infection.
Sepsis Alliance website
World Sepsis Day
Just Giving – UK Sepsis Trust
How to spot sepsis in adults and children
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