Sepsis, Adult

Sepsis is a serious illness that happens when an infection affects the whole body in a certain way. Sepsis can happen in anyone, but it is more likely to happen in people who have a weakened immune system or who are older, bedridden, or affected by other underlying illnesses. Sepsis may be life-threatening.


The infection that causes sepsis may be bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic. Sepsis can result from an infection that occurs anywhere in the body. However, sepsis is most common in people who have a:

  • Bacterial bloodstream infection (bacteremia).

  • Lung infection (pneumonia).

In hospitalized patients, other common sites of infection that may lead to sepsis include:

  • Intravenous (IV) tube access sites.

  • Surgical wounds.

  • Surgical drain sites.

  • Sites of skin breakdown (bedsores).


Symptoms of sepsis can include:

  • Fever or low body temperature (hypothermia).

  • Rapid breathing (hyperventilation).

  • Chills.

  • Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia).

Symptoms of severe sepsis can also include:

  • Confusion or lightheadedness.

  • Trouble breathing.

  • Urinating much less than usual.

  • Cool, clammy skin or red, flushed skin.

  • Other problems with the heart, kidneys, or brain.

Sepsis can cause the blood pressure to drop. This may result in shock. Shock causes the central nervous system and the organs of the body, including the kidneys, liver, and lungs, to stop working correctly.


Your caregiver will likely do tests to look for an infection, to see if the infection has spread to your blood, and to see how serious your condition is. Tests can include:

  • Blood tests, including cultures of your blood.

  • Cultures of other places that may be a source of the infection, such as:

  • Urine.

  • Pus draining from a wound.

  • Mucus coughed up from the lungs.

  • Urine tests.

  • X-rays or other imaging tests.


  • Patients with sepsis usually require very close watching in an intensive care unit (ICU).

  • First, your caregiver will try to find the source and cause of your infection. Potential sources such as infected IV lines or surgical drains may be removed. Potential sources such as sores (abscesses) may be surgically drained.

  • If your sepsis is likely caused by a bacteria or fungus, antibiotic treatments are started as soon as possible with drugs that fight many different types of infections. Once your culture test results are back and the exact cause is known, more specific antibiotics will be given.

  • You may also receive:

  • Oxygen.

  • IV fluids.

  • Medicines to increase your blood pressure.

  • Mechanical blood cleaning (dialysis) may be needed in the event of kidney failure.

  • Assisted breathing is often needed if respiratory failure occurs.


You have had sepsis before and notice your symptoms are coming back.