Be aware of the causes and symptoms of sepsis


Sepsis is an illness that can occur when your body has an extreme inflammatory response to an infection. Any infection that goes untreated can lead to sepsis. Most commonly, sepsis stems from pneumonia, abdominal infections, urinary tract infections or skin infections and can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and even death. 

The World Health Organization estimates that sepsis affects more than 30 million people worldwide every year, potentially leading to 6 million deaths.  

Those most at risk include adults 65 or older, people with chronic medical conditions (such as diabetes, lung disease, cancer and kidney disease), people with impaired immune systems and children younger than 1 year old. 


It’s important to be aware of the symptoms so that you can get emergency medical treatment fast if you experience:

  • confusion or disorientation
  • fever or shivering, or feeling very cold
  • shortness of breath
  • clammy or sweaty skin
  • extreme pain or discomfort

If symptoms don’t improve or there’s a sudden worsening of symptoms, you need to get to the emergency room. 

As an emergency medicine doctor, I think it’s most important for the public to know the symptoms of sepsis and to seek medical treatment quickly if you experience these symptoms. If you can’t get in to see your primary care doctor then go to the emergency room. ER doctors are here to advocate for people who can’t advocate for themselves, especially the elderly and infants and babies, whether it’s due to illness or injury. 


Depending on the cause, early treatment of sepsis may start with broad antibiotics early on. But every person responds differently to treatment. Some patients will recover quickly, within six to 24 hours. Others may get worse within a 24- to 48-hour time period, and will require being admitted to a hospital to receive medication through an IV, be put on a ventilator to help get oxygen into the blood and be monitored.


Remember, sepsis can occur if you have an infection of any kind, so just being more aware of and understanding sepsis is key. Know what to do if symptoms get bad and ask your doctor if the infection could lead to sepsis.

As for skin infections, one of the best things you can do is to keep scrapes and wounds clean to prevent infection and follow good hygiene practices such as hand washing.

Dr. Eric Adkins is an emergency medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.


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