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Sepsis (Blood Infection)

What Is Sepsis?

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition in which the body is fighting a severe infection that has spread via the bloodstream. If a patient becomes "septic," they will likely have low blood pressure leading to poor circulation and lack of blood perfusion of vital tissues and organs. This condition is termed "shock" and is sometimes referred to as septic shock when an infection is the cause of shock to distinguish it from shock due to blood loss or from other causes. This condition can develop either as a result of the body's own defense system or from toxic substances made by the infecting agent. Survival rates for sepsis depend on the patient's underlying medical conditions, how quickly the diagnosis is made, the organism that causes the infection, and the patient's age.

People at Risk for Sepsis

  • People whose immune systems (the body's defense against infections) are not functioning well because of an illness (such as diabetes or AIDS) or because of medical treatments that weaken the immune system (such as chemotherapy for cancer or steroids for a number of medical conditions) are more prone to develop sepsis. It is important to remember that even healthy people can become septic.
  • Very young babies, because their immune systems are not completely developed, may get sepsis if they become infected and are not treated in a timely manner. Often, if they develop signs of an infection such as fever, infants must receive antibiotics and be admitted to the hospital. Sepsis in the very young is often more difficult to diagnose because the typical signs of sepsis (fever, change in behavior) may not be present or may be more difficult to ascertain.
  • The elderly population, especially those with other medical illnesses such as diabetes, may be at increased risk as well.
  • Hospitalized patients are at risk to develop sepsis from infections due to intravenous lines, catheters, surgical wounds, and/or bedsores.

The number of people dying from sepsis has increased in the past 20 years. This is most likely due to the increased number of patients who suffer from sepsis. The number of patients who develop sepsis has increased for many reasons. Since 1999, the rapid rise of sepsis mortality seen in previous decades has slowed.

  • There has been a large increase in sepsis because doctors have started treating cancer patients and organ-transplant patients, among others, with strong medications that weaken the immune system. In the past, these patients would have died due to complications of their disease. As we get better at treating the underlying illness, patients survive longer but then sometimes die due to the complications of the therapy.
  • As our aging population increases, the number of elderly people with weak immune systems has grown.
  • Advances in medical care have increased the survival of acute events (severe trauma, severe strokes), which often lead to a delayed death due to sepsis.
  • Increased antibiotic use has resulted in many more resistant strains of bacteria, making the treatment of sepsis more difficult in some cases because there is no effective antibiotic.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017

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Sepsis (Blood Infection) - Treatments

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Sepsis - Symptoms and Signs

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Sepsis Symptom

Low Blood Pressure

If low blood pressure is the normal state for a patient, then there will be no symptoms.

If low blood pressure is symptomatic, then the patient may feel:

  • lightheaded,
  • dizzy and weak,
  • short of breath, or
  • have chest pain.

The symptoms will depend upon which organ in the body is lacking adequate blood flow.

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Sepsis, Bacterial »

Sepsis is a clinical term used to describe symptomatic bacteremia, with or without organ dysfunction.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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