What is sepsis? Signs and symptoms of reaction in children and adults, treatment - and how do you get it

Anyone with an infection can get sepsis, but some people are more likely to get an infection that could lead to sepsis

Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction to an infection, but what are the signs and symptoms?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction to an infection. You cannot catch sepsis from another person.

It happens when your immune system overreacts to an infection and starts to damage your body’s own tissues and organs.

Sepsis is sometimes called septicaemia or blood poisoning.

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Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction to an infection

Who can get sepsis?

According to the NHS, anyone with an infection can get sepsis, but some people are more likely to get an infection that could lead to sepsis, including:

  • babies under one, particularly if they’re born early (premature) or their mother had an infection while pregnant
  • people over 75
  • people with diabetes
  • people with a weakened immune system, such as those having chemotherapy treatment or who recently had an organ transplant
  • people who have recently had surgery or a serious illness
  • women who have just given birth, had a miscarriage or had an abortion

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

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Sepsis can be hard to spot as there are a lot of possible symptoms.

Symptoms can be vague and they can be like symptoms of other conditions, including flu or a chest infection.

You should call 111 if you, your child or someone you look after:

  • feels very unwell or like there’s something seriously wrong
  • has not had a pee all day (for adults and older children) or in the last 12 hours (for babies and young children)
  • keeps vomiting and cannot keep any food or milk down (for babies and young children)
  • has swelling, redness or pain around a cut or wound
  • has a very high or low temperature, feels hot or cold to the touch, or is shivering

111 can tell you what to do, arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor, or call you an ambulance.

You should call 999 or go to A&E if a baby or young child has any of these symptoms of sepsis:

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  • blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue
  • a rash that does not fade when you roll a glass over it, the same as meningitis
  • difficulty breathing (you may notice grunting noises or their stomach sucking under their ribcage), breathlessness or breathing very fast
  • a weak, high-pitched cry that’s not like their normal cry
  • not responding like they normally do, or not interested in feeding or normal activities
  • being sleepier than normal or difficult to wake

They may not have all these symptoms.

You should call 999 or go to A&E if an adult or older child has any of these symptoms of sepsis:

  • acting confused, slurred speech or not making sense
  • blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue
  • a rash that does not fade when you roll a glass over it, the same as meningitis
  • difficulty breathing, breathlessness or breathing very fast

They may not have all these symptoms.

How is it treated?

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Sepsis needs to be treated in hospital straight away because it can get worse quickly.

You should get antibiotics within one hour of arriving at hospital.

If sepsis is not treated early, it can turn into septic shock and cause your organs to fail. The NHS said that this is life threatening.

You may need other tests or treatments depending on your symptoms, including:

  • treatment in an intensive care unit
  • a machine to help you breathe (ventilator)
  • surgery to remove areas of infection

You may need to stay in hospital for several weeks.

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