Sepsis: Could You Spot the Symptoms?

Every year, sepsis claims millions of lives globally but many people still don’t know the symptoms. Here’s our guide to spotting the signs and taking action.


Every year, sepsis claims millions of lives globally but many people still don’t know the symptoms. Here’s our guide to spotting the signs and taking action.

Sepsis isn’t generally as well-known as some other serious health conditions, yet it has a higher fatality rate than bowel, prostate and breast cancer combined. In fact, a recent study shows that it’s responsible for 1 in 5 deaths worldwide. The Sepsis Trust report that in the UK alone, 48,000 a year die of sepsis, but the NHS estimate that 10,000 lives a year could be saved with earlier diagnosis and treatment.

As homecare providers, it’s really important for all our staff to be aware of the symptoms of sepsis. Elderly people and people living with other health conditions are more at risk of serious complications from sepsis. So, we’re doing our bit to raise awareness of this potentially life-threatening condition.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis (sometimes called ‘blood poisoning’ or ‘septicaemia’ - although these are actually different conditions) occurs when you get an infection and your body has an abnormal response to fighting it off. Instead of dealing with the infection in the usual way, the immune system goes into overdrive, attacking healthy tissue, which can ultimately lead to organ failure.

An irregular immune response to all kinds of bacterial, viral or fungal infections can cause sepsis. Even a mild problem that we could otherwise overcome can become serious if our bodies react abnormally. For example, something like a urine infection, cut or ulcer could be the starting point. We don’t yet know why the immune system sometimes acts in this way, but it’s important to be aware that it can.

There is a higher risk of getting sepsis if you suffer from other health complications. Groups of people who are more susceptible include:

  • Children
  • Elderly people
  • Pregnant or post-partum women
  • People with a suppressed immune system due to a health condition or medication
  • Diabetics
  • People who have recently had surgery

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

Initial symptoms can be tricky to spot because there quite a few and they are very similar to common conditions like the flu or a tummy bug. For example, in the early stages common signs include feeling feverish, shaky and hot or cold. If you know the person already has an infection and these symptoms don’t improve, contact your GP for advice. Whatever you do, don’t leave it and hope it will go away.

If not caught early, in the later stages sepsis is a medical emergency. You need to call an ambulance or get the person straight to A&E if they demonstrate the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe trembling and shaking
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Clammy skin
  • Dizziness
  • Becoming unconscious

If caught in time, sepsis can respond well to the right antibiotics. Leave it too late, and it could result in organ failure. Acting quickly really could save someone’s life, so seek medical help as soon as possible if you suspect any infection might be getting out of control.

How to reduce the risk of sepsis

Maintaining good hygiene and using proper infection control measures can go a long way towards reducing the chances of getting sepsis. Things like washing your hands well, good wound care, staying up to date with vaccinations, taking prescribed medications properly and treating infections effectively and quickly are really important.

If we all play our part, we can help reduce the number of deaths from sepsis in our communities. For more information on sepsis, visit The Sepsis Trust website. If you’d like to know how our homecare services could benefit you or a loved one living in South London, contact our team today.