Sepsis and septic shock are medical emergencies.
Sepsis is treatable if it's identified and treated early. It's best if you are put on treatment within an hour of diagnosis.
If you have early signs of sepsis, your GP will send you to hospital.
Treatment for sepsis depends on:
- where the initial infection is and what caused it
- the organs affected
- the extent of any damage
In most cases, treatment leads to a full recovery with no lasting problems.
Treatment in hospital
When you get to hospital you'll be treated with antibiotics.
You may also receive:
- fluids directly into a vein (intravenously)
- oxygen, if your levels are low
You will be treated based on your symptoms.
Medical staff in the hospital will also carry out tests to check if it's sepsis. These may include x-rays, scans and blood tests.
The tests and treatments will depend on where you have the infection and how unwell you are.
Intensive Care Unit (ICU)
Sepsis causes your organs not to work as they should. You're likely to be very ill. Up to 1 in 5 people with sepsis will die. 4 in 5 people will not.
You may need to be taken to an ICU if you are very ill with sepsis and your organs need support, such as being put on a ventilator. There is a risk you may develop septic shock.
Septic shock is when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level and blood flow to vital organs is reduced. Up to 4 in 10 people who develop septic shock die. 6 in 10 people will not.
Antibiotics are the main treatment for sepsis. These will be given as a liquid directly into a vein (intravenous).
It's best if you are put on antibiotics within an hour of diagnosis. This is to reduce the risk of serious complications or death. You may have to take them for up to 10 days or longer, depending on how serious your condition is.
Antibiotics work against a wide range of known infectious bacteria. Once a specific bacterium has been identified, you'll be given a more focused antibiotic.
Antibiotics do not work on viral infections. But they may be given if doctors suspect you have a secondary infection. Antibiotics may be needed to treat this. It would be too dangerous to delay treatment until tests confirm the specific cause.
With a viral infection, you'll be treated depending on your symptoms. This may include fluids for dehydration or painkillers for pain. Antiviral medicine may be given in some cases.
If you have sepsis, you will need intravenous fluids. These are put directly into a vein. This is to prevent dehydration and kidney failure.
If you have septic shock, you'll have a catheter inserted to track how much you pee.
It's important that the doctors know how much pee your kidneys are making when you have sepsis. This is so they can spot signs of kidney failure.
Your body may need oxygen if you have sepsis. If the level of oxygen in your blood is low, you'll usually be given more oxygen.
This is either given through a mask or tubes in your nostrils.
Treating the source of infection
The source of the infection, such as an abscess or infected wound, will also need to be treated.
For example, the medical team may need to drain any pus away. In more serious cases, you may need surgery to remove the infected tissue and repair any damage.
Increasing blood pressure
Medicines called vasopressors are used if you have low blood pressure caused by sepsis.
Vasopressors are normally given intravenously while you're in an ICU.
Extra fluids may also be given to help increase blood pressure.
You may also need more treatment, such as:
- steroids or insulin medicine
- a blood transfusion
- mechanical ventilation - where a machine is used to help you breathe
- dialysis - where a machine filters your blood to copy the function of your kidneys
These treatments are mostly used in ICUs where one-to-one nursing and continuous monitoring of vital signs is needed.
Recovering from sepsis
Most people make a full recovery from sepsis. But it can take time.
You might continue to have physical and emotional symptoms. These can last for months or even years.
Increased sepsis risk
After a sepsis infection, you are more likely to get sepsis again. This risk decreases around a year after your sepsis infection.
If you notice symptoms of sepsis or are very unwell, call 999 or 112, or go to an emergency department (ED).
The long-term effects after sepsis are sometimes called post-sepsis syndrome. The more severe your case of sepsis was, the more likely you are to experience post-sepsis syndrome.
Post-sepsis syndrome can include:
- feeling very tired and weak
- difficulty sleeping
- lack of appetite
- getting ill more often
- changes in your mood
- anxiety or depression
- nightmares or flashbacks
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-sepsis syndrome is different for everyone. But the more severe your case of sepsis was, the more severe post-sepsis syndrome is likely to be.
Treatment for post-sepsis syndrome
Most symptoms of post-sepsis syndrome should get better on their own. But it can take time.
There are things you can do to help with some long-term effects.
do not try to rush your recovery - give yourself time
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE