Septic shock

Septic shock is a life-threatening condition that happens when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level after an infection. Septic shock is a medical emergency. Dial 999 to ask for an ambulance if you think you or someone in your care has septic shock.

Symptoms of septic shock 

Any type of bacteria can cause the infection. Fungi such as candida and viruses can also be a cause, although this is rare.

At first the infection can lead to a reaction called sepsis. This begins with weakness, chills, and a rapid heart and breathing rate.

In some cases, symptoms of more severe sepsis or septic shock (when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level) develop soon after.

People with a weakened immune system have an increased risk of developing septic shock.

This includes:

  • newborn babies
  • elderly people
  • pregnant women
  • people with long-term health conditions, such as diabetescirrhosis or kidney failure
  • people with lowered immune systems, such as those with HIV or AIDS or those receiving chemotherapy

Symptoms of septic shock include:

Septic shock is a medical emergency. Dial 999 to ask for an ambulance if you think that you or someone in your care has septic shock.

Treating septic shock 

You'll usually be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) so your body's functions and organs can be supported while the infection is treated. 

Treatment may include:

  • oxygen therapy
  • fluids given directly through a vein (intravenously)
  • medication to increase your blood flow
  • antibiotics 

Complications of septic shock 

The chances of surviving septic shock will depend on:

  • the cause of infection
  • the number of organs that have failed
  • how soon treatment is started

Complications of septic shock can include:

  • inability of the lungs to take in enough oxygen (respiratory failure)
  • the heart not being able to pump enough blood around the body (heart failure)
  • kidney failure or injury 
  • abnormal blood clotting

These are serious health conditions that will need to be treated urgently. Septic shock can be fatal because of complications like these.

Sepsis 

Sepsis occurs when an infection spreads through the blood, causing symptoms throughout the whole body. It's sometimes called septicaemia or blood poisoning, but these terms aren't the same as sepsis.

Sepsis is where the body's defence mechanisms respond to an infection in some part of the body, resulting in symptoms such as a fever, raised pulse rate, raised breathing and confusion.

Septicaemia – another name for blood poisoning – is a bacterial infection of the blood that leads to the spread of infection and organ damage through sepsis.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

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