Septic shock is a life-threatening condition that happens when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level after an infection.

The infection will first cause a response from the body known as sepsis (see below). If sepsis isn't treated, it can lead to septic shock. 

Read more about the causes of septic shock.

Symptoms of septic shock

Symptoms of septic shock include:

These symptoms usually follow on from sepsis, which begins with weakness, chills, and a rapid heart and breathing rate. Read more about the preceding signs of sepsis.

Septic shock is a medical emergency. Dial 999 to ask for an ambulance if you think that you or someone in your care has septic shock.

Treating septic shock

If you have septic shock, you'll usually be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) so your body’s functions and organs can be supported while the infection is treated.

Treatment may include:

  • oxygen therapy
  • fluids given directly through a vein (intravenously)
  • medication to increase your blood flow
  • antibiotics 
  • surgery (in some cases)

Read more about treating septic shock.

Complications of septic shock

The chances of surviving septic shock will depend on:

  • the cause of infection
  • the number of organs that have failed
  • how soon treatment is started

Complications of septic shock can include:

  • inability of the lungs to take in enough oxygen (respiratory failure)
  • the heart not being able to pump enough blood around the body (heart failure)
  • kidney failure or injury 
  • abnormal blood clotting

These are serious health conditions that will need to be treated urgently. Septic shock can be fatal because of complications such as these.


Sepsis occurs when an infection spreads through the blood, causing symptoms throughout the whole body. It's sometimes referred to as septicaemia or blood poisoning, but these terms aren't the same as sepsis.

Sepsis is where the body's defence mechanisms respond to an infection in some part of the body, resulting in symptoms such as a fever, raised pulse rate, raised breathing and confusion.

Septicaemia (another name for blood poisoning) is a bacterial infection of the blood that leads to the spread of infection and organ damage.

Page last reviewed: 18/02/2015

Next review due: 18/02/2017