Sepsis, also known as blood poisoning or septicaemia, is a potentially life-threatening condition triggered by an infection or injury.

In sepsis, the infection has entered the blood stream. The infection can now be carried around the blood stream to other parts of the body. The body’s immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight the infection.

This can reduce the blood supply to vital organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys.

Once sepsis occurs a person can become seriously ill very quickly. Sepsis can lead to multiple organ failure and death. Quick action and treatment is necessary.

General Symptoms

When considering symptoms, it is important to remember that one may usually presents more than one symptom but rarely all.

Early symptoms of sepsis may 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 (when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level) develop soon after.

These can include:

  • 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
  • less urine production than normal – for example, not urinating for a day
  • cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin
  • loss of consciousness

An adult can tell you how they are feeling and to some extent a child can too. But a baby can’t.

Signs of neonatal sepsis. Sometimes with babies a fever is the only symptom.

  • Body temperature changes (hot above 38°C or cold)
  • Breathing problems, rapid breathing, grunting with each breath.
  • Diarrhoea, infrequent urination
  • Floppiness, reduced activity/movements.
  • Reduced sucking
  • Blue, pale or mottled skin, lips or tongue.
  • Seizures
  • Slow heart rate
  • Swollen belly
  • Vomiting
  • Yellow skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Bulging soft spot

In general, signs of sepsis in children and older babies include:

  • High fever (above 39°C) or cold (36°C or less)
  • General illness or a previous injury, such as a scrape or cut
  • Shortness of breath
  • Very rapid heart beat or very slow.
  • Drop in or no urine output
  • Weak ‘whining’ or continuos cry
  • Confusion
  • Blue, pale or mottled skin, lips or tongue.
  • Lethargy


When to seek medical advice

111 or 999?

Concerned or suspicious of early signs of sepsis call NHS 111

If sepsis is suspected, you’ll usually be referred to hospital for further diagnosis and treatment.

Severe sepsis and septic shock are medical emergencies, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

Act quickly.


Information gathered from

NHS Choices

Sepsis Trust

Sepsis Alliance

NHS NICE Guidelines [NG51 2016]



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