Navigate Up

Seniors Center - A-Z Index

#
Q
Y
Z

Print This Page

Sepsis

Sepsis is an illness in which the body has a severe response to bacteria or other germs.

This response may be called systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS).

Causes

The symptoms of sepsis are not caused by the germs themselves. Instead, chemicals the body releases cause the response.

A bacterial infection anywhere in the body may set off the response that leads to sepsis. Common places where an infection might start include the:

For patients in the hospital, common sites of infection include intravenous lines, surgical wounds, surgical drains, and sites of skin breakdown, known as bedsores or pressure ulcers .

Symptoms

In sepsis, blood pressure drops, resulting in shock . Major organs and body systems, including the kidneys, liver, lungs, and central nervous system stop working properly because of poor blood flow.

A change in mental status and very fast breathing may be the earliest signs of sepsis.

In general, symptoms of sepsis can include:

Bruising or bleeding may also occur.

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will examine the person and ask about the person's medical history.

The infection is often confirmed by a blood test. But a blood test may not reveal infection in people who have been receiving antibiotics. Some infections that can cause sepsis cannot be diagnosed by a blood test.

Other tests that may be done include:

Treatment

A person with sepsis will be admitted to a hospital, usually in the intensive care unit (ICU). Antibiotics are usually given through a vein (intravenously).

Oxygen is given to the person. Large amounts of fluids are given through a vein. Other medical treatments include:

Outlook (Prognosis)

Sepsis is often life threatening, especially in people with a weakened immune system or a long-term (chronic) illness.

Damage caused by a drop in blood flow to vital organs such as the brain, heart, and kidneys may take time to improve. There may be long-term problems with these organs.

Not all patients survive an episode of sepsis.

Prevention

The risk of sepsis can be reduced by getting all recommended vaccines.

In the hospital, careful hand washing can help prevent infections that lead to sepsis. Prompt removal of urinary catheters and IV lines when they are no longer needed can also help prevent infections that lead to sepsis.

References

Munford RS, Suffredini AF. Spesis, severe sepsis, and septic shock. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Mandell GL, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 75.

Russell JA. Shock syndromes related to sepsis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 108.

Updated: 8/31/2014

Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com