Sepsis: Symptoms And Treatment For Potentially Deadly Condition That Kills 44,000 Each Year

Do you know the warning signs?

17/01/2017 11:51 GMT | Updated 11/09/2017 09:18 BST

One quarter of NHS hospital trusts aren’t giving antibiotics to almost half of sepsis patients within the recommended time, a report by BBC Panorama has revealed.

The programme looked at figures from 104 hospital trusts and discovered that more than three quarters of patients are being screened, while just 63% of people are being administered antibiotics within one hour.

Without fast treatment, sepsis can lead to shock, multiple organ failure and even death.

Every year in the UK there are 150,000 cases of sepsis, which result in a staggering 44,000 deaths. This is more than bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined.

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What is sepsis?

“Sepsis is a rare but extremely dangerous condition where infection gets into the blood stream, causing an extreme reaction which attacks the vital organs,” Dr Helen Webberley, the dedicated GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy, told HuffPost UK.

It can occur following chest or water infections, problems in the abdomen like burst ulcers, or simple skin injuries like cuts and bites, according to The Sepsis Trust. 


Sepsis can initially be confused with other ailments such as flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection. Early symptoms include:

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

People should seek medical help urgently if they develop any of the following:

:: Slurred speech
:: Extreme shivering or muscle pain
:: Unable to pass urine (in a day)
:: Severe breathlessness
:: Mottled or discoloured skin 

Dr Tom Connor, a microbiologist for SIRU and honouree consultant with Public Health Wales, said people should be particularly vigilant of symptoms such as dizziness or shortness of breath. 


With sepsis, early detection is vital. If it hasn’t yet affected a person’s organs, it may be possible to treat with antibiotics at home. 

Dr Jane Fenton May, vice chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs in Wales, said people should monitor symptoms and seek advice if they are worried.

“It is a difficult call,” she previously told the BBC. “It is best to get advice rather than rock up to casualty, you may just end up sitting in a waiting room and deteriorating there.”

A person should seek urgent medical advice if they have recently had an infection or injury and are showing possible early signs of sepsis.

If a person is experiencing any of the more severe symptoms, such as slurred speech or severe breathlessness, they should go straight to A&E or call 999. 

At this point, most people will be admitted to hospital and may even need to be sent to an intensive care unit. 

Because of problems with vital organs, people with severe sepsis are likely to be very ill and the condition can be fatal, according to NHS Choices.