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 | Updated 17 January 2017

Experts have warned members of the public to not be “martyrs” if they experience sepsis symptoms this winter.

While many have been told to keep away from doctor’s surgeries if they have coughs and colds, there are concerns that those with sepsis may also stay away and not seek the potentially life-saving help they need. 

Scientists at Cardiff University’s Systems Immunity Research Institute (SIRU) said people need to be educated on the symptoms of sepsis, to ensure they seek crucial treatment. 

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.

BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

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, tells The Huffington Post 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. 

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


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 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.

Suggest a correction