Sepsis, also septicemia, is a potentially life-threatening complication of a bacterial infection.

It happens when chemicals released by the immune system into the blood to control the spread of bacteria trigger an inflammatory response in the body.

Inflammation can trigger a cascade of changes that can potentially damage multiple organs and systems and disrupt their functions.

If the complication progresses to septic shock, where the blood pressure drops dramatically, this can cause death.

Anyone can develop this complication of a bacterial infection, but it is most common and most dangerous in the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.

Immediate treatment, usually with antibiotics and large amounts of fluids, increases the chances of survival.

What are the symptoms?

Most doctors consider the complication as a 3-stage syndrome, starting with sepsis, which then progresses to a severe form and reaches its final phase is septic shock.

The goal is to start treatment when septicemia is still in its first stage.

To be diagnosed, at least 2 of the following symptoms must be present:

• The body temperature is above 38.3 or lower than 36 degrees Celsius;
• The heart muscle contraction rate is above 90 beats per minute;
• The respiratory rate is higher than 20 breaths per minute;
• Probable or confirmed bacterial infection;

Second stage

The diagnosis can be changed to the severe form of the complication, if the affected person exhibits at least one of the following signs and symptoms that point to organ failure:

• Significant decrease in the amount of urine output;
• Sudden change in mental status;
• Decrease in platelet count;
• Difficulty breathing;
• Abnormal pumping function of the heart;
• Abdominal pain;

Septic shock

In order for such a diagnosis to be made, the affected person, in addition to having the signs and symptoms of severe sepsis, must have extremely low blood pressure and not increase when replacing the lost fluids from the body.

When to seek medical help?

Most often the complication develops in people who are hospitalized. And those in the intensive care unit are particularly vulnerable to infections, which can subsequently become the cause of septicemia.

If you develop an infection or if you develop the characteristic clinical signs of a complication after surgery or after hospitalization, seek medical attention immediately.

Treatment of sepsis

People with the severe form of septicemia require careful observation and treatment in an intensive care unit. In such cases, life-saving measures to stabilize breathing and cardiac function are sometimes necessary.


Many drugs are used to control the infection of the blood. Antibiotic therapy is most often prescribed.

Treatment is most often with antibiotics, starting immediately, even before the infectious organism is found.

Broad-spectrum antibiotics, which are effective against many bacteria, are initially administered. As their intake is provided intravenously.

After the results of the blood tests come out, the attending physician may prescribe a switch to another antibiotic that is more suitable for the specific type of bacteria causing the infection.

If the blood pressure is still low, even after the infusion of large amounts of fluids intravenously, the doctor may prescribe a drug from the group of vasopressors.

These medications cause blood vessels to constrict, which should lead to an increase in blood pressure.

Other medications that are usually prescribed are small doses of corticosteroids and also insulin, which will help keep blood sugar levels stable.

In such cases, drugs that alter immune reactions and pain relievers or sedatives are also prescribed.

Supportive care

In people with the severe form of the complication, intravenous fluid infusions are usually performed and, if necessary, respiratory function is supported by ventilation or mechanical ventilation.

Depending on the patient’s condition, if there is kidney failure, hemodialysis procedures are required.


If abscesses have occurred as a result of the blood infection, they are surgically removed or drained.

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