Sepsis | Causes, Prevention and Treatment | MedStar Health

Sometimes referred to as septicemia or blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to an infection, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Some people are at higher risk of developing sepsis, including the very young, the very old, those with chronic illnesses, and those with a weakened or impaired immune system. Sepsis is not contagious. However, if sepsis is not treated early, it can damage your organs and can even cause death.

How you can help prevent infections

  • Follow infection control requirements, like hand hygiene, and receive recommended vaccines (e.g., flu and pneumococcal)

  • Think sepsis. Know sepsis signs and symptoms to identify and treat the disease early

  • Act fast. If sepsis is suspected, get medical attention immediately

Signs and symptoms of sepsis

  • S ► Shivering, fever, or very cold

  • E ► Extreme pain or discomfort

  • P ► Pale, discolored, clammy, or sweaty skin

  • S ► Sleepy, confusion, or disorientation

  • I  ►" I feel like I might die"

  • S ► Shortness of breath

Vital signs and biomarker levels

The key to detecting sepsis early is accurate and timely completion and documentation of vital signs. Any changes or trends in vital signs should also be noted. If you or a member of your family has any of these symptoms, go to the emergency department immediately!

  • Body temperature: less than 96.8° F or greater than 100.4° F

  • Heart rate: more than 90 beats per minute

  • Respiratory rate: more than 20 breaths per minute

  • Very low blood pressure

Diagnosis and tests

Unlike diseases or conditions like diabetes or kidney stones, there is no one test that can tell if you have sepsis. Diagnosis is made after your doctor evaluates your symptoms, your history, and other tests that may indicate you have an infection. This can then lead your doctor to suspect you have sepsis. Some tests that may be done to determine if a patient has sepsis include:

Blood Tests

  • Complete blood count

  • Lacate

  • C-reactive protein

  • Blood culture

  • Prothrombin time and partial thromboplastin time (PT and PTT), platelet count, and d-dimer

Diagnostic Tests

  • Chest X-ray

Urine Tests

  • Urinalysis

  • Urine culture

Treatment for sepsis

Sepsis is a medical emergency and needs to be treated as quickly and efficiently as possible. Treatments often include multiple types of antibiotics and IV fluids, such as saline.

Visit to learn more.

Our providers

Sepsis specialist shaking hands with patient after the surgery

Expert sepsis care

Getting the care you need starts with seeing one of our sepsis specialists

Additional information

play button