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Understanding Sepsis

Sepsis awareness

According to The UK Sepsis Trust, 44,000 people die from sepsis each year in the UK and that’s why it’s important to be aware of the symptoms, causes and treatments available.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, is a life threatening condition where the immune system overreacts to an infection or injury. The immune system usually fights off infections, however in the case of Sepsis the immune system attacks the body’s organs and tissues instead. Without quick treatment, sepsis can be fatal and can lead to multiple organ failure and that’s why it’s important to familiarise yourself with the symptoms.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can develop sepsis after they’ve been injured or had a minor infection. Some people however may be more vulnerable, this includes those with a medical condition or receiving treatment that weakens the immune system, people already in hospital with a serious illness, people who have just had surgery and people with wounds or injuries due to an accident.

Symptoms in adults

It’s important to get urgent medical advice if you suspect that you might have sepsis. Either call the NHS 111 helpline, go straight to A&E or call 999.

Early symptoms in adults and older children may include:

  • Fever (a high or low body temperature)
  • Shivering
  • A fast/rapid heartbeat
  • Fast/rapid breathing

Symptoms of septic shock or a more severe sepsis, when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level, include:

  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Feeling dizzy/faint/light headed
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle pain
  • Breathlessness
  • Passing no urine
  • Clammy, cold and pale or mottled skin
  • Loss of consciousness

Symptoms in children

It’s important to get urgent medical advice if you suspect your child might have sepsis. Either call the NHS 111 helpline, go straight to A&E or call 999.

Symptoms of sepsis in children include:

  • Very fast breathing
  • A rash that does not fade when you press it
  • Pale, blue or mottled skin
  • Fitting or convulsion
  • Abnormally cold to touch
  • Difficult to wake


The treatment given for sepsis, severe sepsis or septic shock will usually be antibiotics and these should start within an hour of diagnosis to reduce the risk of any complications. Your body will also need plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and in the case of severe sepsis you’ll usually be given fluids intravenously during the first 24 to 48 hours.

It’s important to trust your instincts with sepsis and if you are in doubt then seek medical advice to be on the safe side.

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