What is sepsis? Symptoms and signs of deadly blood infection, what causes it, and treatment explained

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ITV documentary Jason & Clara: In Memory of Maudie explores the tragic loss of their daughter to sepsis

Actor Jason Watkins and his wife Clara Francis speak about their daughter Maudie's death from undiagnosed sepsis in 2011. Maudie was taken to hospital by her parents but they were twice sent home by doctors who believed that she had croup, a mild childhood infection that usually doesn't require treatment.

However, Maudie tragically died at home on New Year's Day 2011, and it was revealed that she had sepsis - Jason and Clara said that they felt guilty for not doing more to stop the doctors from sending them home.

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Their documentary, Jason & Clara: In Memory of Maudie will air on ITV on Thursday 30 March at 9pm, and will be available to watch on ITVX shortly after it first airs.

But what is sepsis, what are the symptoms and how do you catch it?

Here’s everything you need to know.

If you develop symptoms of sepsis it’s important to seek medical attention immediately (Pic: Getty Images)If you develop symptoms of sepsis it’s important to seek medical attention immediately (Pic: Getty Images)
If you develop symptoms of sepsis it’s important to seek medical attention immediately (Pic: Getty Images) | Getty Images

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a life threatening condition that is triggered by your immune system’s response to an infection.

If the infection is not stopped and allowed to spread, this can trigger sepsis which could potentially lead to tissue damage, organ failure and even death.

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Sepsis presents itself in three stages: sepsis, severe sepsis and septic shock.

Here are the three stages of sepsis explained:

  • Sepsis: the infection has gotten into your bloodstream and causes inflammation in your body.

  • Severe sepsis: the infection and inflammation has started to affect organ function.

  • Septic shock: a serious complication that causes blood pressure to drop and can lead to life-threatening complications including organ dysfunction, heart failure, stroke or death.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

According to Heathline, the symptoms of sepsis will depend on what stage of the condition you are in.

Symptoms of sepsis can include:

  • fever and/or chills

  • confusion or disorientation

  • difficulty breathing

  • fast heart rate or low blood pressure (hypotension)

  • extreme pain

  • sweaty skin

You must have one or more of the following signs to be diagnosed with severe sepsis:

  • difficulty breathing

  • bluish discoloration of the skin, especially lips, fingers, toes

  • chills due to a drop in body temperature

  • decreased urination

  • dizziness

  • changes in mental ability

  • extreme weakness (asthenia)

  • low platelet count (thrombocytopenia)

  • abnormal heart functions

  • unconsciousness

Signs and symptoms of septic shock (septicemia):

  • Low blood pressure

  • Often severe sepsis and septic shock symptoms overlap such as: severe difficulty breathing, acute confusion, and bluish skin

Jason Watkins and Clara FrancisJason Watkins and Clara Francis
Jason Watkins and Clara Francis | ITV

How do you get sepsis?

Sepsis is triggered by an infection such as pneumonia or blood poisoning.

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According to the NHS, certain people are more susceptible to sepsis.

These include:

  • babies under 1

  • people over 75

  • people with diabetes

  • people with a weakened immune system

  • people who have recently had surgery or a serious illness

  • women who have just given birth, had a miscarriage or had an abortion

The condition can be hard to spot in babies and young children, people with dementia, people with a learning disability, and people who have difficulty communicating.

What treatments are available?

If sepsis is left untreated it can quickly progress and become life-threatening, which is why it’s important that if you suspect it, to seek medical attention immediately.

Treatments for the condition include IV antibiotics, medications for blood pressure, insulin, corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and pain relief.

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Additional treatment for severe sepsis might include IV fluids and a respirator, whilst dialysis may be needed if the condition has impacted your kidneys.

Surgery may be required in some cases to remove infected tissue.

You can learn more about sepsis at The UK Sepsis Trust.

Related topics:

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