Have you heard of sepsis?

Written by
Helen West

Sepsis has been in the news a great deal recently, and for a good reason.

A recent study, reported on by the BBC, found that sepsis deaths in England are on the rise. Yet many people are still unaware of this potentially life-threatening condition.

So what is sepsis, and what should you do if you or someone close to you is experiencing symptoms?

Read on to find out what to look out for, who is most at risk, and how this deadly condition can be treated.

What is sepsis?

If you watch Coronation Street, you might remember the sepsis storyline that ran last year. Perhaps you've heard on the news that more sepsis cases are being recorded than ever before. But what it is?

Jack Webster contracts sepsis in Coronation Street

In Coronation Street 7-year-old Jack Webster contracted sepsis after cutting his knee playing football. © The UK Sepsis Trust

Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection.

When we develop an infection, our immune system usually kicks in to fight it. However, sometimes the infection spreads and this can cause our immune system to go into overdrive. It then begins to attack itself, which results in tissue and organ damage.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

People often miss the early symptoms of sepsis, but rapid medical intervention makes it more likely that someone will make a full recovery.

The most common early symptoms are similar to those of the flu: a high temperature or low body temperature; chills and shivering; a fast heartbeat; and fast breathing.

More severe symptoms develop soon after. They include feeling dizzy and faint; cold, clammy, and pale or mottled skin; slurred speech; and severe muscle pain. The graphic below, from The UK Sepsis Trust, shows how you can use the acronym 'SEPSIS' to remember the key symptoms.

Symptoms of sepsis

Who is at risk of sepsis?

In England alone, around 123,000 people develop sepsis and the condition causes 37,000 deaths each year.

Anyone can develop sepsis, but some people are more at risk than others. They include people with a weakened immune system; people with long-term health conditions; the very old and very young; and people who have recently had surgery.

If you suspect you or someone you know has sepsis, you should seek immediate medical advice. Call your GP or ring 111 and let them know that you're concerned about sepsis. If someone is experiencing severe symptoms or appears to be getting worse, go to A&E or call an ambulance.

How is sepsis treated?

If sepsis is caught early enough, you may be able to treat it at home with antibiotics. However, many people need to be treated in hospital. If you're admitted, you'll be given antibiotics, fluids, and oxygen to help you fight the infection.

More than 100,000 people are admitted to hospital with sepsis every year, but it's important to remember that most will go on to make a full recovery.

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