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Sepsis (septicaemia, or blood poisoning)

2-minute read

What is sepsis?

Sepsis (also known as 'septicaemia' or 'blood poisoning') is a serious blood infection caused by bacteria.

Sepsis is a medical emergency and can be fatal if not treated quickly. If you suspect you or someone else has sepsis, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

What causes sepsis?

Sepsis can start with any bacterial infection. That infection can be in the bladder, or in the chest, or even on the skin. But when you have sepsis, the infection worsens and spreads through the blood. The body's immune reaction can make things worse, not better, and it can cause a sudden, untreatable drop in blood pressure called septic shock.

Sepsis symptoms

The symptoms of sepsis vary. They can include:

If sepsis gets worse, symptoms can include:

Sepsis diagnosis

A doctor will examine the person with sepsis and will organise blood tests. Other bodily fluids such as urine and sputum might also be tested as well as tests of their urine. The person might also need x-rays and perhaps other scans as well.

Further problems of sepsis

Bacteria in the blood can infect other organs, causing inflammation of the:

  • lining of the brain (meningitis)
  • abdomen (peritonitis)
  • inner layer of the heart (endocarditis)
  • joints (septic arthritis)

Sepsis can also lead to septic shock.

Sepsis treatment

Immediate treatment is vital.

A person with sepsis will need to be treated in hospital since it is a serious condition and can be fatal. There, they will receive antibiotics and intravenous fluids.

Last reviewed: January 2018

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