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Sepsis Education


What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. It can be life threatening and without timely treatment, sepsis can lead to tissue damage, organ damage, and death.

What Causes Sepsis?

Any type of infection, anywhere in the body can cause sepsis. It is most commonly associated with infections of the lungs
(e.g. pneumonia), urinary tract, skin, and gastrointestinal. An infection occurs when germs enter a person’s body and multiply causing illness and organ/tissue damage.

Who is at Risk?

Anyone can get an infection, and almost any infection can lead to sepsis. People with chronic conditions such as diabetes, lung disease, cancer, or kidney disease are at the highest risk of developing infections that can lead to sepsis.

Sepsis most commonly occurs in:

  • Adults 65 and older
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Children younger than one year of age

How can I help prevent or get ahead of sepsis?

  • Talk to your doctor/nurse about steps to prevent infections, such as taking good care of chronic conditions and getting    recommended vaccines
  • Practice good hand hygiene
  • Keep cuts clean and covered until healed
  • Know the signs and symptoms of sepsis
  • ACT FAST Sepsis is a medical emergency. Time matters. Get medical care immediately if you suspect sepsis or have an infection that is not getting better or is getting worse. Ask your doctor or nurse, “Could this infection be leading to sepsis?”

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis?

Symptoms of sepsis can include any of the following:

  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast heart rate
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Clammy or sweaty skin
  • Fever, shivering, or feeling very cold
    (Temp >100.4 or < 96.8)
  • Lethargy or extreme fatigue

How is Sepsis Diagnosed?

  • Physical exam/medical history
  • Vital signs
  • Lab work and X-Rays

How is Sepsis Treated?

  • Antibiotics and IV fluids
  • Oxygen
  • In severe cases, surgery, dialysis, and/or assisted breathing with a machine is required
  • Other specialists you may see in the hospital include Infectious Diseases, Pulmonary, Nephrology, and others

Life after Sepsis

What are the first steps to recovery?

After you have had sepsis, rehabilitation usually starts in the hospital by helping you move around and care for yourself: bathing, sitting up, walking, helping you to the bathroom, etc. The purpose of rehabilitation is to restore you back to your previous level of health or as close as possible. Begin your rehabilitation by building up your activities slowly, and rest when you are tired.

How will I feel when I get home?

You have been seriously ill, and your body and mind need time to get better. You may notice some of the following symptoms after being treated for sepsis:

  • General to extreme weakness and fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • General body aches and pains
  • Difficulty moving around and weakness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Weight loss, loss of appetite, taste changes
  • Dry and itchy skin that may peel
  • Brittle nails and hair loss

It is also not unusual to have the following feelings when you are at home:

  • Unsure of yourself
  • Not caring about your appearance
  • Wanting to be alone, avoiding friends and family
  • Flashbacks and bad memories
  • Confusing reality (e.g. not sure what is real and what is not)
  • Feeling anxious, more worried than usual
  • Poor concentration
  • Depressed, angry, unmotivated
  • Frustration at not being able to do everyday tasks

How can I help myself recover at home?

  • Set small achievable goals for yourself each week, such as taking a bath, dressing yourself, or walking up the stairs
  • Take time to rest and rebuild yourself
  • Talk about your feelings to family/friends
  • Record your thoughts, struggles, and milestones in a journal
  • Learn about sepsis to understand what happened
  • Ask your family to fill in any gaps you may have in your memory about what happened to you
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Exercise if you feel up to it
  • Make a list of questions to ask your doctor when your go for a follow-up visit

Are there any long term effects of sepsis?

Many people who survive sepsis recover completely and their lives return to normal. However, as with other illnesses requiring intensive medical care, some patients have long-term effects. These problems may  not become apparent for several weeks (post-sepsis), and may include:

  • Difficulty getting to or staying asleep
  • Nightmares, hallucination, and panic attacks
  • Disabling muscle and joint pain
  • Decreased mental (cognitive) functioning
  • Loss of self-esteem and self-belief
  • Organ dysfunction (kidney failure, respiratory problems, etc.)
  • Amputations (loss of limbs)

How is Sepsis Diagnosed?

    Generally, the problems described in this fact sheet do improve with time. They are a normal response to what you have been through. However, if you feel that you are not getting better, finding it difficult to cope, or continue to be exhausted call your doctor.