Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body's response to infection causes injury to its own tissues and organs. Common signs and symptoms include fever, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, and confusion. There may also be symptoms related to a specific infection, such as a cough with pneumonia, or painful urination with a kidney infection. In the very young, old, and people with a weakened immune system, there may be no symptoms of a specific infection and the body temperature may be low or normal, rather than high. Severe sepsis is sepsis causing poor organ function or insufficient blood flow. Insufficient blood flow may be evident by low blood pressure, high blood lactate, or low urine output. Septic shock is low blood pressure due to sepsis that does not improve after fluid replacement.
Sepsis is caused by an inflammatory immune response triggered by an infection. Most commonly, the infection is bacterial, but it may also be fungal, viral, or protozoan. Common locations for the primary infection include the lungs, brain, urinary tract, skin, and abdominal organs. Risk factors include very young age, older age, a weakened immune system from conditions such as cancer or diabetes, major trauma, or burns. An older method of diagnosis was based on meeting at least two systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) criteria due to a presumed infection. In 2016, SIRS was replaced with a shortened sequential organ failure assessment score (SOFA score) known as the quick SOFA score (qSOFA) which is two of the following three: increased breathing rate, change in level of consciousness, and low blood pressure. Blood cultures are recommended preferably before antibiotics are started, however, infection of the blood is not required for the diagnosis. Medical imaging should be used to look for the possible location of infection. Other potential causes of similar signs and symptoms include anaphylaxis, adrenal insufficiency, low blood volume, heart failure, and pulmonary embolism.
Sepsis is usually treated with intravenous fluids and antibiotics. Typically, antibiotics are given as soon as possible. Often, ongoing care is performed in an intensive care unit. If fluid replacement is not enough to maintain blood pressure, medications that raise blood pressure may be used. Mechanical ventilation and dialysis may be needed to support the function of the lungs and kidneys, respectively. To guide treatment, a central venous catheter and an arterial catheter may be placed for access to the bloodstream. Other measurements such as cardiac output and superior vena cava oxygen saturation may be used. People with sepsis need preventive measures for deep vein thrombosis, stress ulcers and pressure ulcers, unless other conditions prevent such interventions. Some might benefit from tight control of blood sugar levels with insulin. The use of corticosteroids is controversial, with some reviews finding benefit, and others not.
Disease severity partly determines the outcome. The risk of death from sepsis is as high as 30%, from severe sepsis as high as 50%, and from septic shock as high as 80%. The number of cases worldwide is unknown as there is little data from the developing world. Estimates suggest sepsis affects millions of people a year. In the developed world approximately 0.2 to 3 people per 1000 are affected by sepsis yearly, resulting in about a million cases per year in the United States. Rates of disease have been increasing. Sepsis is more common among males than females. The medical condition has been described since the time of Hippocrates. The terms "septicemia" and "blood poisoning" have been used in various ways and are no longer recommended.
In the USA, more than 500,000 patients per year develop sepsis, with an estimated rising incidence of 1.5% per year (2003). The costs alone for treatment of sepsis have been calculated to be $16.7 billion per year. Mortality reports vary between 30 and 70%.