Sepsis: What to Look Out For

Sepsis is a rare but very serious complication of an infection which is dubbed the ‘silent killer’.

It is caused by the way the body responds to germs, such as bacteria getting into your body. Sepsis can start anywhere in the body and can either be in a single concentrated area or widespread.

The life-threatening condition can occur following complications to a relatively normal and common infection such as chest or water infection, burst ulcers in the abdomen or even simple injuries to the skin such as cuts or bites.

In response to an infection, the bodies immune system goes into overdrive and in trying to fight the infection ends up injuring its own tissues and organs which can lead to shock, multiple organ failure and death.

It is vitally important that as soon as you see signs of sepsis you call 999 and get treatment immediately to reduce the damage sepsis can cause.


Sepsis can happen to anyone who has an infection but young children, elderly, diabetic, pregnant or those on long-term steroids are at a higher risk of developing the condition.

The UK Sepsis Trust lists six symptoms that you should be aware of;

  • Slurred speech
  • Passing of no urine in a day
  • Severe breathlessness
  • Mottled or discoloured skin
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Feeling like ‘you might die’

Symptoms for children include;

  • Cold to the touch
  • Mottled, blue or pale skin
  • Lethargic or difficult to wake
  • Fast breathing
  • Rash on the skin which doesn’t fade when pressed
  • Seizure or convulsion

When to Get Medical Help

If you, a child or family member has recently had an infection and is showing symptoms listed above you should seek medical advice immediately by either called NHS on 11 or emergency services on 999. They will usually refer you to a hospital where further diagnosis and treatment will be carried out to determine the condition.

If you think the individual has severe sepsis or is showing developed symptoms listed above, then you should go straight to A&E or call 999 for an ambulance to take you to a hospital.

Sepsis is a quick condition which worsens in a short period of time, as soon as you notice any symptoms or you’re vaguely worried it may be sepsis speak to a medical professional.


A healthcare professional will be able to diagnose sepsis by checking temperature, heart rate and breathing, with some requiring a blood test.

To confirm where the sepsis is within the body, other tests may be required such as taking a urine or stool sample, extracting a small piece of tissue from a wound, taking a sample of saliva or mucus, examining blood pressure or carrying out an x-ray, ultrasound or CT scan.

Treatment of sepsis depends on when the condition is caught. The earlier the sepsis is diagnosed; then easier this is to treat.

If sepsis is caught before it has affected any organs, a series of antibiotics may be prescribed which can be taken at home.

Treatment for sepsis does very depending on the cause of the infection, patient and area which is affected as well as any organs which are at risk and the extent of damage to the body.

Within an hour of diagnosis, medical professionals will carry out a series of tests & treatments which are known as the ‘sepsis six’.

Treatments include

  • Giving antibiotics
  • Giving fluids
  • Giving oxygen

Tests include

  • Taking blood cultures
  • Taking a blood sample
  • Monitoring your urine output

In cases of severe sepsis, the individual may be referred to an intensive care unit as vital organs may have been affected. These individuals are likely to be very ill and the condition may be life-threatening. Up to 4 people in every 10 who develop severe sepsis will die, septic shock is again very serious with an estimate 6 in every 10 cases being deadly.

Every year in the UK there are 150,000 cases of Sepsis, resulting in 44,000 deaths, this is more than bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined.


Depending on when the condition is caught and treated, making a full recovery is possible for some, others may experience post-sepsis syndrome.

There are varying factors which will alter the recovery process, these include

  • The severity of the condition
  • The organ(s) it affected
  • The individual’s overall health
  • How much time was needed in hospital
  • If ICU treatment was required

Symptoms of post-sepsis syndrome include;

  • Muscle weakness
  • Swollen limbs and joints
  • Chest pain or breathlessness
  • Frequently feeling lethargic or overly tired

If you feel that yourself, a child or someone you know may be showing signs of sepsis then it is vital you seek medical advice immediately.