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Sepsis is a complication caused by the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection, which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. It is difficult to predict, diagnose, and treat. Patients who develop sepsis have an increased risk of complications and death and face higher healthcare costs and longer treatment. CDC is working to increase awareness of sepsis among the public, healthcare providers, and healthcare facilities, including the need to prevent infections that lead to sepsis and urgently treat suspected sepsis. Read personal stories and perspectives on sepsis at: CDC’s Safe Healthcare Blog.

SEPSIS QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Basic Information for Patients and Caregivers

CDC Urges Sepsis Awareness

What is sepsis?

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

 

What causes sepsis?

Infections can lead to sepsis. An infection occurs when germs enter a person's body and multiply, causing illness, organ and tissue damage, or disease. Sepsis is often associated with infections of the lungs (e.g., pneumonia), urinary tract (e.g., kidney), skin, and gut. Staphylococcus aureus (staph), Escherichia coli (E. coli), and some types of Streptococcus (strep) are common germs that can cause sepsis.

 

Are certain people with an infection more likely to get sepsis?

Anyone can develop sepsis from an infection, especially when not treated properly. However, sepsis occurs most often in people aged 65 years or older or less than 1 year, have weakened immune systems, or have chronic medical conditions (e.g., diabetes).

 

A CDC evaluation found more than 90% of adults and 70% of children who developed sepsis had a health condition that may have put them at risk.

 

Ask your doctor about your risk for getting sepsis. If you suspect sepsis, ask your doctor, "Could it be sepsis?"

 

If you have a chronic medical condition, ask your doctor about steps you can take to reduce your risk of infections, such as controlling blood sugar for persons with diabetes.

 

What are the signs and symptoms of sepsis?

Know the signs and 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:

Shivering, fever, or very cold

Extreme pain or discomfort

Clammy or sweaty skin

Confusion or disorientation

Short of breath

High heart rate

 

What should I do if I think I have an infection that isn’t getting better or is getting worse?

Get immediate medical attention if you have any signs or symptoms of an infection or sepsis. This is a medical emergency.

If you are continuing to feel worse or not getting better from an infection, ask your doctor about sepsis.

If you or a family member are at higher risk for sepsis (older than 65, younger than 1 year, or with a weakened immune system, or a chronic medical condition) consider getting medical attention for any suspected infection.

 

How is sepsis diagnosed?

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

 

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.

 

How is sepsis treated?

People with sepsis are 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.

 

How is sepsis treated?

People with sepsis are 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.

 

Are there any long-term effects of sepsis?

Many people who get 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.

 

What can I do to prevent sepsis?What can you do to 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:
    1. Cleaning scrapes and wounds
    2. Practicing good hygiene (e.g., hand washing)
  3. Know that time matters. If you have a severe infection, look for signs and symptoms like: shivering, fever, or very cold, extreme pain or discomfort, clammy or sweaty skin, confusion or disorientation, short of breath, and high heart rate.

 

What is CDC doing to prevent sepsis?

CDC works to prevent infections that could lead to sepsis through support for:

 

CDC also is collaborating with patient advocates and clinical partners to promote sepsis prevention and early recognition among healthcare providers, patients and their families.

BASIC INFORMATION AND PATIENT

RESOURCES

Key information, fact sheets and videos

What is sepsis?  What causes sepsis? Who gets sepsis? The answers to these questions and more can be found in a series of fact sheets and an infographic created to increase sepsis awareness among both the general public and healthcare professionals. These resources are intended for patients and caregivers and can be placed in patient waiting areas, emergency rooms, and anywhere that patients might view them. These fact sheets can be downloaded, viewed, copied, and distributed without alteration.

Fact Sheets and Infographic

What is Sepsis

Infographic: What is Sepsis?           (PDF - 288 KB)

Life after Sepsis Fact Sheet:

(PDF - 659 KB)

Cancer, Infection and Sepsis Fact Sheet:

(PDF - 348 KB)

Survivors of sepsis face long-term problems, says U-M physician

Sepsis in Older Americans: Saving Lives through Early Recognition

IMPROVING SURVIVAL THROUGH POLICY AND COLLABORATIVES

Quality improvement efforts to improve survival in sepsis patients.

DATA REPORTS

Recent reports on the incidence of sepsis.

CLINICAL RESOURCES

Guidelines, bundles, education resources and tools.

MEDICAL BIBLIOGRAPHY

Selected sepsis chapters from medical textbooks.