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Sepsis Questions and Answers

See Also – Sepsis Fact Sheets

Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to an infection which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.

When can you get sepsis?

Sepsis can occur to anyone, at any time, from any type of infection, and can affect any part of the body. It can occur even after a minor infection.

What causes sepsis?

Any type of infection that is anywhere in your body can cause sepsis, including infections of the skin, lungs (such as pneumonia), urinary tract, abdomen (such as appendicitis), or other part of the body. An infection occurs when germs enter a person’s body and multiply, causing illness, and organ and tissue damage.

Who gets sepsis?

Anyone can get sepsis as a bad outcome from an infection, but the risk is higher in:

  • people with weakened immune systems
  • babies and very young children
  • elderly people
  • people with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, AIDS, cancer, and kidney or liver disease
  • people suffering from a severe burn or wound

Ask your doctor about your risk for getting sepsis.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

There is no single sign or symptom of sepsis. It is, rather, a combination of symptoms. Since sepsis is the result of an infection, symptoms can include infection signs (diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat, etc.), as well as ANY of the symptoms below:

S—Shivering, fever, or very cold

E—Extreme pain or general discomfort ("worst ever")

P—Pale or discolored skin

S—Sleepy, difficult to rouse, confused

I—"I feel like I might die"

S—Short of breath

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Why should I be concerned about sepsis?

Sepsis can be deadly. It kills more than 258,000 Americans each year and leaves thousands of survivors with life-changing after effects. According to CDC, there are over 1 million cases of sepsis each year, and it is the ninth leading cause of disease-related deaths.

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What should I do if I think I have an infection or sepsis?

  • Call your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately if you have any signs or symptoms of an infection or sepsis. This is a medical emergency.
  • It’s important that you say, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.”
  • If you are continuing to feel worse or not getting better in the days after surgery, ask your doctor about sepsis. Sepsis is a common complication of people hospitalized for other reasons.

How is sepsis diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose sepsis using a number of physical findings like fever, increased heart rate, and increased breathing rate. They also do lab tests that check for signs of infection.

Many of the symptoms of sepsis, such as fever and difficulty breathing, are the same as in other conditions, making sepsis hard to diagnose in its early stages.

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How is sepsis treated?

People with sepsis are usually treated in the hospital. Doctors try to treat the infection, keep the vital organs working, and prevent a drop in blood pressure.

Doctors treat sepsis with antibiotics as soon as possible. Many patients receive oxygen and intravenous (IV) fluids to maintain normal blood oxygen levels and blood pressure. Other types of treatment, such as assisting breathing with a machine or kidney dialysis, may be necessary. Sometimes surgery is required to remove tissue damaged by the infection.

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Are there any long-term effects of sepsis?

Many people who get severe sepsis recover completely and their lives return to normal. But some people may experience permanent organ damage. For example, in someone who already has kidney problems, sepsis can lead to kidney failure that requires lifelong dialysis.

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How can I prevent sepsis?

How can I prevent sepsis?

  1. Get vaccinated against the flu, pneumonia, and any other infections that could lead to sepsis. Talk to your doctor for more information.
  2. Prevent infections that can lead to sepsis by:
    • Cleaning scrapes and wound
    • Practicing good hygiene (e.g., hand washing, bathing regularly)
  3. If you have an infection, look for signs like: fever, chills, rapid breathing and heartrate, rash, confusion, and disorientation.

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How many people get sepsis?

CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics estimates that, based upon information collected for billing purposes, the number of times people were in the hospital with sepsis or septicemia (another word for sepsis) increased from 621,000 in the year 2000 to 1,141,000 in 2008.1

Between 28 and 50 percent of people who get sepsis die.2

The number of cases of sepsis each year has been going up in the United States. This could be because of the following reasons:

  • the population is aging
  • people have more chronic illnesses
  • people are getting more invasive procedures, immunosuppressive drugs, chemotherapy, and organ transplants
  • increasing antibiotic resistance
  • increasing awareness and tracking of sepsis

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What is CDC doing to prevent sepsis?

CDC works to prevent infections that could lead to sepsis through promotion of vaccination for diseases like pneumococcus and meningitis, smoking cessation programs to prevent community-acquired pneumonia, and strategies to prevent healthcare-associated infections. Recently, CDC has begun projects specifically focused on sepsis prevention so that we can better understand the factors that contribute to sepsis, enhance prevention strategies, and save lives.

CDC has worked with patient advocacy and consumer groups to educate the public, raise awareness and promote the prevention of healthcare-associated infections. CDC is working to implement strategies to increase sepsis awareness among the public, healthcare providers, and healthcare facilities.

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  1. NCHS Data Brief No. 62 June 2011 - Inpatient Care for Septicemia or Sepsis: A Challenge for Patients and Hospitals
  2. Wood KA, Angus DC. Pharmacoeconomic implications of new therapies in sepsis. PharmacoEconomics. 2004;22(14):895-906.