Sepsis – blood poisoning


Sepsis is a serious condition, formerly called blood poisoning. Sepsis means that an infection affects the entire body and that important organs such as the heart, lungs, brain and kidneys do not function properly. Sepsis can be life-threatening. It is important that you seek treatment immediately if you think you or a related person have received sepsis.

Symptoms of sepsis

Infections are very common. Usually they are mild and heal by themselves, but sometimes what is a mild infection can quickly develop into a serious condition called sepsis.

If you get sepsis, you usually feel very ill and have difficulty managing yourself.

The symptoms of sepsis often come on suddenly. Sometimes in a few hours.

These symptoms are common in sepsis:  

  • You have chills.
  • You have a fever over 38 degrees.
  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You seem confused or difficult to contact.
  • You have diarrhea or vomiting.
  • You have a lot of stomach, back, muscle or joints.
  • You have a feeling of clear muscle weakness or lack of energy, especially if you are older.

The more of the symptoms you have, the higher the likelihood of having sepsis. Sometimes you can have sepsis without having a fever.

Red streaks on the skin are not sepsis

Many people think that red streaks on the skin from a wound can be signs of sepsis. If you feel healthy and are fever free, it is not sepsis. However, it may be a sign that you are getting an infection in the wound. Then seek care the same day. 

When and where should I seek care?

Immediately call for help if you or a relative have any of the following symptoms:

  • confusion or difficult to get in touch with
  • hard to breathe.


If you have symptoms of blood poisoning suggesting you have sepsis, your doctor will do a body examination to try to find out what is the cause of the infection. The doctor also checks your heart rate, your blood pressure, your blood oxygenation, and your breathing.

You are allowed to submit blood tests that measure your white blood cells and what is called a rapid lowering, or CRP. In hospitals, samples are usually taken from your blood, your urine, your nose, and any infected wounds before you are treated with antibiotics. The investigation is often supplemented with different types of x-ray examinations. 

Treatment of sepsis

It is very important to detect and treat sepsis quickly. Sepsis is treated with antibiotics, usually directly in the blood. Most people who receive antibiotic treatment early are healthy. Those who get sepsis are usually hospitalized for one or a few weeks. In severe cases of sepsis, intensive care is required.

In addition to antibiotics, you often receive treatment to help the organs that do not function properly. For example, you can get extra oxygen to improve the oxygenation of the blood or get fluid in the blood for better blood circulation in the body.

When the infection is under control, you are usually allowed to continue taking antibiotics in tablet form for another week.

What happens in the body during sepsis?

Sepsis starts with an infection somewhere in the body, which activates the body’s immune system. It can sometimes cause several large organs in the body to start to function worse.

In the case of sepsis, the body forms, among other things, substances that cause blood vessels to leak fluid. It causes blood pressure to drop. This makes the blood difficult to transport oxygen to the body’s important organs. It helps to make the big organs very strained. Then you usually need hospital care to get well again.

Various causes of sepsis

The most common cause of sepsis is pneumonia. About half of all people who get sepsis get it in conjunction with pneumonia. Most people do not become seriously ill with pneumonia but can be treated at home with antibiotics in tablet form. If you get sepsis from pneumonia, you often need hospital care.

Urinary tract infection, an infection of the stomach or ulcer infections are other causes of sepsis.

In a small proportion of those who develop sepsis, it is impossible to say what the cause is. Sepsis can be caused by many different bacteria and sometimes viruses. Most of them are not contagious.

Catheters and other objects can lead to sepsis

Sepsis can also be caused by bacteria entering the body through artificial objects that have been inserted. For example, it may be a urinary catheter, a dialysis catheter, a subcutaneous venous port, or a central venous catheter, CVK.

Severe infections and sometimes even sepsis can also occur around foreign objects. It can be, for example, joint prostheses, a pacemaker, artificial blood vessels or other manufactured objects.

Sepsis is more common among the elderly and the sick

You are more likely to get sepsis and you will be seriously ill in sepsis if you are older or have a reduced immune system. This applies even if you have a serious illness such as cancer, diabetes, rheumatic diseases or a disease that affects the large organs. It is also more likely if you have had a high alcohol consumption for a long time. Prolonged cortisone therapy and other immunosuppressive therapy may also increase the risk of sepsis.

Sepsis of antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria are increasing. High antibiotic use increases the risk of being infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are more common abroad

Bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics are more common abroad and you can be infected even on short trips outside northern Europe. Usually, these bacteria disappear from the body by themselves within a few months.

The risk of getting sick from very difficult to treat resistant bacteria is greatest if you have been cared for in hospitals abroad. Therefore, you are routinely examined to see if you have resistant bacteria if you have been nursed in hospitals abroad and need to be admitted to hospitals.

Sepsis in children

Sepsis is unusual in children. It is most common for newborn babies who are born prematurely to have sepsis. Sepsis has become less common in children as most are vaccinated against Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) and pneumococci through the general vaccination program for children.

In children, sepsis can come along with meningitis. It is not as common among adults. Meningitis is also called meningitis.

Here are signs and symptoms that may indicate sepsis and/or meningitis in children:

  • You feel that your child is very ill and affected.
  • The child has a fever.
  • The child is tired and does not make the same contact as they usually do.
  • The child is whiny and irritated.
  • The child breathes quickly and effortlessly.
  • The child is drinking or breastfeeding poorly, or not at all.
  • The child has a pale gray skin color.
  • The child has cold hands and feet.
  • The child has pain in his arms, legs or stomach.
  • The child has vomiting or diarrhea.
  • The child has skin bleeding. That is rashes that do not fade when pressed.
  • The child has a headache and a stiff neck. They may have difficulty bending their heads forward.

The more symptoms and signs the child has, the greater the risk of sepsis. Sometimes the child may have sepsis without having a fever.

Fever is always a serious sign in children younger than one month and can be severe in children between one and six months of age and can sometimes be due to sepsis.

Considerable pain should be treated, but the treatment of fever does not make the child healthier. The child may have sepsis even if they temporarily become more irritated by fever and pain-relieving treatment.

Examination and treatment of sepsis

The treatment that children receive in sepsis is the same as that of adults. Read more about it under the heading Treatment.

Children who get sepsis are examined in the same way as adults, but sometimes the child may also have a back fluid test. The spinal fluid test is also called a lumbar puncture. This is because children can get sepsis along with meningitis. 

Can I Prevent Sepsis?

It is not possible to prevent sepsis in individual cases.

However, there are certain factors that increase the risk of getting sick in sepsis. This includes smoking, high alcohol consumption, and heavy overweight. These factors also increase the risk of having serious complications for sepsis.


It is very rare to get seriously ill in sepsis if you are under 50 and otherwise healthy.

Some who get sepsis become so seriously ill that they need to be cared for in the intensive care unit by special intensive care staff. There, you can get help with maintaining blood pressure and blood circulation with the help of special medicines. You can also get help with breathing, for example through respiratory care. If your kidney function has been severely impaired, you may need dialysis.

Not everyone gets completely healthy

Everyone who becomes seriously ill with sepsis is not fully recovered and about one in ten people who suffer from sepsis die. 

Why is it not called blood poisoning anymore?

Sepsis was formerly called blood poisoning. It is rarely used today because it is misleading. Blood poisoning indicates that the blood has been poisoned. It also suggests that it is the bacteria in the blood that is a serious condition, while sepsis is the body’s reaction to a serious infection.

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