How is sepsis diagnosed and treated?

Diagnosis

Doctors diagnose sepsis using a number of physical findings such as:

Icon: Checklist
  • Fever
  • Low blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing

Doctors also perform lab tests that check for signs of infection or organ damage.  Doctors also perform specific tests to identify the germ that caused the infection that led to sepsis. This testing might include blood cultures looking for bacterial infections, or tests for viral infections, like COVID-19 or influenza.

Treatment

Research shows that rapid, effective sepsis treatment includes:

Icon: Rx
  • Giving appropriate treatment, including antibiotics
  • Maintaining blood flow to organs

Sometimes surgery is required to remove tissue damaged by the infection.

Doctors and nurses should treat sepsis with antibiotics as soon as possible. Antibiotics are critical tools for treating life-threatening infections, like those that can lead to sepsis. However, as antibiotic resistance grows, infections are becoming more difficult to treat.  Antibiotic side effects range from minor, such as rash, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, and yeast infections, to very severe health problems, such as life-threatening allergic reactions or C. difficile (also called C. diff) infection, which causes severe diarrhea that can lead to severe colon damage or death. However, when you need antibiotics, the benefits outweigh the risks of side effects or antibiotic resistance. Improving the way healthcare professionals prescribe antibiotics, and the way we take antibiotics, helps keep us healthy now, helps fight antibiotic resistance, and ensures that these lifesaving drugs will work for you or others when they are needed most, like for treating infections associated with sepsis.