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Man lying in hospital bed with IV in arm. Health care provider is checking IV.
To treat sepsis, antibiotics and fluids may by given through an intravenous (IV) line.

Sepsis is a very serious condition. It happens when your body responds with widespread inflammation to a bad infection, or to bacteria in your bloodstream (bacteremia). Sepsis can be deadly. Blood pressure may drop. The lungs and kidneys may start to fail. Sepsis is a medical emergency. Call 911 right away.

Risk factors

Those most at risk for sepsis are:

  • Infants or older adults

  • People who have an illness that weakens their immune system, such as cancer, AIDS, or diabetes

  • People being treated with chemotherapy medicines or radiation, which weakens the immune system

  • People who have had a transplant

  • People with long-term (chronic) lung, kidney, or heart disease

  • People with a very severe infection such as pneumonia, meningitis, or a urinary tract infection

When to call 911

Sepsis is a medical emergency. Call 911 right away if you have a fever with any of these symptoms:

  • Chills and shaking

  • Fast heartbeat and breathing

  • Trouble breathing

  • Severe nausea or uncontrolled vomiting

  • Confusion, disorientation, drowsiness, or dizziness

  • Decreased urination

  • Severe pain, including in the back or joints 

What to expect in the emergency room

  • Blood and urine tests are done to look for bacteria. They also check for organ failure.

  • Blood, urine, or sputum cultures may be taken. The samples are sent to a lab. They are placed in a special container. Any bacteria should grow in 24 to 48 hours.

  • X-rays or other imaging tests may be done.

A person with sepsis will be admitted to the hospital and treated with antibiotics. Treatment may also include oxygen and IV (intravenous) fluids. Depending on the person's physical condition and health history, they may be admitted right to the intensive care unit (ICU).

Online Medical Reviewer: Barry Zingman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2019
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