Sepsis, septicaemia and blood poisoning

Sepsis is often referred to as either blood poisoning or septicaemia, although it could be argued that both terms are not entirely accurate. Sepsis is not just limited to the blood and can affect the whole body, including the organs.

Septicaemia (another name for blood poisoning) refers to invasion of bacteria into the bloodstream and this occurs as part of sepsis. Sepsis can also be caused by viral or fungal infections, although bacterial infections are by far the most common cause.

Sepsis is a common and potentially life-threatening condition triggered by an infection.

In sepsis, the body’s immune system goes into overdrive, setting off a series of reactions including widespread inflammation, swelling and blood clotting. This can lead to a significant decrease in blood pressure, which can mean the blood supply to vital organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys is reduced.

If not treated quickly, sepsis can eventually lead to multiple organ failure and death.

Each year in the UK, it is estimated that more than 100,000 people are admitted to hospital with sepsis and around 37,000 people will die as a result of the condition.

Signs and symptoms of sepsis

Early symptoms of sepsis usually develop quickly and can include:

  • a high temperature (fever)
  • chills and shivering
  • a fast heartbeat
  • fast breathing

In some cases, symptoms of more severe sepsis or septic shock (when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level) develop soon after. These can include:

  • feeling dizzy or faint
  • confusion or disorientation
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin

Read more about the symptoms of sepsis.

When to seek medical advice

See your GP immediately if you have recently had an infection or injury and you have possible early signs of sepsis.

Severe sepsis and septic shock are medical emergencies. If you think that you or someone in your care has one of these conditions, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

Read more about diagnosing sepsis.

Who's at risk?

Anyone can develop sepsis after an injury or minor infection, although some people are more vulnerable. People most at risk of sepsis include those:

  • with a medical condition or receiving medical treatment that weakens their immune system
  • who are already in hospital with a serious illness
  • who are very young or very old
  • who have just had surgery or who have wounds or injuries as a result of an accident

Read more about the causes of sepsis.

How sepsis is treated

If sepsis is detected early and has not yet affected vital organs, it may be possible to treat the infection at home with antibiotics. Most people who have sepsis detected at this stage will make a full recovery.

Some people with severe sepsis and most people with septic shock require admission to an intensive care unit (ICU), where the body’s organs can be supported while the infection is treated.

As a result of problems with vital organs, people with severe sepsis are likely to be very ill and the condition can be fatal. However, if identified and treated quickly, sepsis is treatable and in most cases leads to full recovery with no lasting problems.

Read more about treating sepsis.

Page last reviewed: 21/03/2014

Next review due: 21/03/2016


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The 5 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

briege said on 18 February 2014

I have been discharged from hospital after 7 days as I had sepsis.

I still feel very tired and have a recurring pain in my left lung and heartburn symptoms.

I also have just developed a pain in my left thigh.

Is this normal and how long does it take you to fully recover from sepsis.
I have finished my antibiotics.

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CptnK said on 15 September 2013

My mother sadly died after 1 month in intensive care when she got sepsis. She had a stomach ulcer caused by ibuprofen and had an operation to remove the affected part of her bowel. Although the operation was successful she went into septic shock afterwards. That was 15 years ago. One month ago my 14 year old daughter also had sepsis caused by a bacterial infection. Fortunately, my daughter pulled through after 8 days in the high dependency ward in the paediatric unit. She was looked after wonderfully by some fantastic doctors and nurses and is now recovering at home. My wife did brilliantly getting our daughter into hospital very quickly and we are greatful for all the help we received from the nurses who were superb.

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rebal said on 12 June 2012

sorry to say my brother took ill in 2006 with what we now know was septicaemia, one night he was vomiting and being sick doctor came out and said your be alright probably your ulcer playing up next morning he was dead only 40 years old so if your ill will similar symptoms go to the hospital and be sure no other symptoms were seen he was only ill for one night take care

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Eve Eve Eve said on 24 January 2012

MitchB6, never lose hope!!! I was nearly 1 year old when got sepsis. It was the first case in our area and doctors did not know what to do because they did not even know what it was. I have heard it was the last stages. I already had bruisers and cuts all over my body. My parents could see them coming... it was that quick. It was the matter of minutes and if it wasn;t for my parents, I wouldn't be here today. There was just one doctor who knew what it was and what to do and started to treat me. Others told my parents to be prepared for the worst. They didn't believe I could make it. But I did! and I didn't even have any demage to my organs. Miracles happen! You just need to believe in them and pray to God! I personally think it is good to talk a lot to the patient, just in case he can hear you. Take care and don't stop parying.

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MitchB6 said on 24 April 2011

hi, my father has this and i really wish we had of thought of looking here at this info or even considered he had sepsis. Only he left it too late and now is in intensive care on life support, also had to have quite a lot of flesh muscle and bone removed as it somehow spread to his bone as well. I only hope and pray he can pull through. Any experiences and outcomes are greatly appricated. As the doctors won't give me an idea of chance. But they think it unlikely. I do hope with all my heart and soul he proves them wrong.

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