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Overview

Sepsis

Important

Sepsis is life threatening. It can be hard to spot.

If you think you or someone you look after has symptoms of sepsis, call 999 or go to A&E. Trust your instincts.

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

  • 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.

Find an A&E.

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.

Find an A&E.

Spotting sepsis

Sepsis can be hard to spot. There are lots of possible symptoms.

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

Call NHS 111 Wales (if available in your area) or 0845 46 47:

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 temperature or low temperature, feels hot or cold to the touch, or is shivering

Do not worry if you're not sure if it's sepsis – it's still best to call 111.

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

Call NHS 111 Wales (if available in your area) or 0845 46 47.

Sepsis can be especially hard to spot in:

  • babies and young children
  • people with dementia
  • people with a learning disability
  • people who have difficulty communicating

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction to an infection.

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

You cannot catch sepsis from another person.

Sepsis is sometimes called septicaemia or blood poisoning.

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Causes

Who's more likely to get sepsis

Anyone with an infection can get sepsis.

  • Some people are more likely to get an infection that could lead to sepsis, including:
  • babies under 1, 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

You cannot catch sepsis from another person. It happens when your body overreacts to an infection.

How to help prevent infections

It's not always possible to prevent sepsis.

There are things you can do to help prevent infections that can lead to sepsis.

Do:

  • keep up to date with vaccines, particularly for babies, children, older people and pregnant women
  • clean and care for any wounds
  • follow the instructions when taking antibiotics
  • take all your prescribed antibiotics, even if you feel better
  • wash your hands regularly and teach children how to wash their hands well

Don't:

  • do not ignore symptoms of sepsis
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Treatment

Treatment for sepsis

Sepsis needs treatment in hospital straight away because it can get worse quickly.

You should get antibiotics within 1 hour of arriving at hospital.

If sepsis is not treated early, it can turn into septic shock and cause your organs to fail. 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.

Recovering from sepsis

Most people make a full recovery from sepsis. But it can take time.

You might continue to have physical and emotional symptoms. These can last for months, or even years, after you had sepsis.

These long-term effects are sometimes called post-sepsis syndrome, and can include:

  • feeling very tired and weak, and difficulty sleeping
  • lack of appetite
  • getting ill more often
  • changes in your mood, or anxiety or depression
  • nightmares or flashbacks
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Treatment for post-sepsis syndrome

Most symptoms of post-sepsis syndrome should get better on their own. But it can take time.

There are things you can do to help with some long-term effects, such as:

Do:

  • ask your work about changes to your working hours or conditions while you're recovering
  • some gentle, easy exercises to build your strength
  • try some tips to help you sleep better
  • things to help prevent infections
  • get support – the Sepsis Trust offers support for survivors of sepsis, or talk to a GP
  • try to eat little and often if you have a small appetite

Don't:

  • do not try to rush your recovery – give yourself time

Visit the Sepsis Trust for:

See a GP about:

  • treatment for physical side effects
  • treatment and support for emotional symptoms
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Selected links

NHS 111 Wales links

Antibiotics

Septic shock 

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The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by
NHS UK NHS website nhs.uk
Last Updated: 06/05/2020 09:25:47