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Sepsis: The signs and symptoms to look out for

Find out the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment for sepsis

doctor with stethoscope
Chloe Best
Chloe BestLifestyle Features Editor
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A number of celebrities have discussed their battle with the potentially lethal blood poisoning sepsis, with Fern Britton admitting that she thought she was dying after contracting sepsis following a hysterectomy in 2016. According to the UK Sepsis Trust, the complication leads to around 40,000 deaths a year in the UK, however it is treatable if it is identified and treated quickly. Discover the signs and symptoms to look out for below…

What are the symptoms of sepsis in young children?

The NHS advises parents go straight to A&E or call 999 if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Looks mottled, pale or bluish
  • Is very lethargic or difficult to wake
  • Feels abnormally cold to touch
  • Is breathing very fast
  • Has a rash that does not fade when you press it
  • Has a fit or convulsion
Fern Britton ITV studios© Photo: Getty Images

Fern Britton contracted sepsis in 2016

What are the symptoms of sepsis in older children and adults?

Early symptoms of sepsis can include:

  • A high temperature (fever) or low body temperature
  • Chills and shivering
  • A fast heartbeat
  • Fast breathing

In some cases, symptoms of more severe sepsis or septic shock develop soon after. These can include the following:

  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • A change in mental state such as confusion or disorientation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Severe breathlessness
  • Cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin
  • Less urine production than normal
  • Loss of consciousness

When to get medical help if you suspect you have sepsis

Call NHS 111 to seek urgent medical advice if you've recently had an injury or infection and you may have early signs of sepsis. If sepsis is suspected you should be referred to hospital for diagnosis and treatment.

doctor with stethoscope© Photo: iStock

How is sepsis diagnosed?

A number of tests will be carried out to identify if you have contracted sepsis, which can include your temperature, heart rate and breathing rate, and perhaps a blood test. Other tests can help determine where it's located and which body functions have been affected, including –

  • A wound culture – where a small sample of tissue, skin or fluid is taken from the affected area for testing.
  • Respiratory secretion testing – a sample of saliva, phlegm or mucus may be taken.
  • Blood pressure tests
  • Urine or stool samples
  • Imaging studies – an X-ray, ultrasound scan or CT scan may be taken

What is the treatment for sepsis?

When sepsis is detected early and hasn't affected any vital organs it may be possible to treat at home with antibiotics. Those with severe sepsis and septic shock will typically require admission to hospital and some may be treated in an intensive care unit.

People with severe sepsis are likely to be very ill and the condition can be fatal. Sepsis is treatable if it is identified and treated quickly, and leads to a full recovery with no lasting problems in most cases.

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