What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a serious medical condition that is caused by an infection. The infection is usually due to bacteria, but is sometimes caused by a virus or fungus. The location of the infection may be anywhere in the body, such as the blood, lungs, skin or urine. The body’s response to the infection is to trigger the immune system, which is the body’s way of fighting infection. Sepsis can cause failure of many body systems, including the lungs, kidneys, heart and circulation.

Sepsis is more common in old people, babies, and people whose immune systems are not working well, but even healthy people can get sick from it.

What can I expect in the hospital?

Severe sepsis is a medical emergency and requires treatment in the hospital. Several things may be done while you are in the hospital to monitor, test, and treat your condition. They include:


  • You will be checked often by the hospital staff.
  • Your heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature will be checked regularly.
  • Your blood oxygen level will be monitored by a sensor that is attached to your finger or earlobe.
  • A heart (cardiac) monitor may be used to keep track of your heartbeat.
  • Your fluid intake may be monitored closely by keeping track of everything you eat and drink and any IV fluids you receive.
  • You may have a small tube (catheter) placed into your bladder through the urethra (the opening from the bladder to the outside of the body) to drain and measure urine from the bladder.
  • You may have fingersticks to check blood sugar regularly. This may be done as often as every hour.


Testing may include:

  • Blood tests to check for infections
  • Blood, urine, or other tests to monitor how well your organs are functioning
  • Tests of bowel movements to check for infection
  • Urine tests to check for bacteria or blood in your urine
  • Cultures: Tests in which cells and fluid are gently collected from wounds to check for infection. The cells are sent to a lab for tests.
  • X-rays: Pictures of the inside of the chest to check for infection
  • Lumbar puncture: A test in which a sample of fluid is taken from the area around your spinal cord to check for infection or inflammation in your brain or spinal fluid
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: A series of X-rays taken from different angles and arranged by a computer to show thin cross sections of a part of the body to check for abnormalities or infection
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A powerful magnetic field and radio waves are used to take pictures from different angles to show thin cross sections of a part of the body to check for abnormalities or infection
  • Ultrasound scan: Sound waves and their echoes are passed through your body from a small device (called a transducer) that is held against your skin to create pictures of the inside of a part of the body to check for abnormalities or pockets of infection


The treatment for sepsis depends on its cause, your symptoms, how well you respond to treatment, your overall health, and any complications you may have.

  • You will have a small tube (IV catheter) inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will allow medicine to be given directly into your blood and to give you fluids, if needed.
  • You may receive oxygen through a small tube placed under your nose or through a mask placed over your face. In very severe cases, you may have a tube put into your lungs to help you breathe.
  • Your provider may prescribe medicine to:
    • Treat pain
    • Treat the infection
    • Control your blood sugar
    • Narrow your blood vessels and increase your blood pressure
    • Reduce swelling
    • Prevent blood clots

What can I do to help?

  • You will need to tell your healthcare team if you have new or worsening:
    • Chills or sweats
    • Body aches
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Fast heartbeat
    • Dizziness when you stand up or fainting
    • Confusion
    • Redness, swelling, or drainage of pus from any wounds
    • Easy bruising or bleeding
    • Increased pain at a site of infection or surgery
    • Redness, swelling, or leaking around the area where an IV goes into your skin
  • Ask questions about any medicine or treatment or information that you do not understand.

How long will I be in the hospital?

How long you stay in the hospital depends on many factors. The average amount of time to stay in the hospital with sepsis is 6 to 9 days.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-04-30
Last reviewed: 2014-04-24
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

Patient Portal

Our Patient Portal provides safe and secure online access to better communicate with your Tufts Medical Center Community Care doctor. This easy-to-use web tool is a convenient way to book appointments, request referrals, renew prescriptions, view medical records/test results and communicate with your healthcare provider from the privacy of your own computer.


Your privacy is important to us. Learn more about ourwebsite privacy policy. X