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Carolinas HealthCare System

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is the body's immune response to acute infection. In some infections, the response overwhelms the body and can lead to organ failure and death.

When fighting a severe infection, the body's immune system triggers widespread inflammation, which causes reduced blood flow, damaging the organs and causing low blood pressure. This combination of events can lead to shock, organ failure and death.

Who is at risk for sepsis?

Anyone with an infection can get sepsis. However, the following individuals are at greater risk:

  • The elderly
  • Children and infants
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People with infections, such as urinary tract infections and pneumonia
  • People with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, AIDS, cancer, kidney disease or liver disease
  • People who have experienced a severe burn or physical trauma
  • People who have been admitted and discharged from a hospital over the past 30 days

How do I know if I have sepsis?

Sepsis can arise unpredictably and progress rapidly, with few "warning signs" compared to other conditions.

Because sepsis can be difficult to recognize, it's important that you pay attention to your health and seek medical attention for acute infections such as pneumonia or urinary infection.

Seek help if you or someone you know has an infection and is experiencing symptoms such as dizziness, low blood pressure or difficulty breathing, which may be signs of early sepsis.

What can I do to avoid getting sepsis?

The number one way to reduce or eliminate your risk of sepsis is by avoiding infections as much as possible.

If you are being treated for an infection or must take medications to cure an infection, make sure you treat it quickly or take the medications completely. Use antibiotics wisely and follow good infection control practices like cleaning your hands frequently and cleaning cuts.

Where can I go for diagnosis or treatment of sepsis?

If you believe that you or someone you know may have sepsis, call your doctor's office right away or visit your nearest urgent care location. If symptoms persist or worsen within a day or two, visit your nearest emergency department.