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Sepsis in adults and older children

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition. It can lead to multiple organ failure and possibly death. Find out what to look for and what to do.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is caused by the way the body responds to an infection. The infection can happen anywhere in the body. For example, a chest or urinary infection, or problems in the abdomen like burst ulcers, or even simple skin injuries like cuts and bites. Sepsis is sometimes called septicaemia or blood poisoning.

It is a life-threatening condition which makes the immune system go 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, eventually leading to multiple organ failure and possibly death.

Signs and symptoms

Sepsis can be hard to spot. It can initially look like flu or a chest infection. Symptoms can appear different in babies and young children from those of adults and older children.

In adults and older children, look for:

  • Slurred speech, confusion, dizziness, or faintness
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passing no urine over the past 24 hours
  • Severe breathlessness or rapid breathing
  • ‘I feel sicker than I ever have before’
  • Skin is mottled, pale or discoloured

They may not have all of these symptoms.

What to do

1. If someone is unwell and you think they have one or more symptoms of sepsis, do not wait, call 999 or 112 for emergency help straight away.

2. While you’re waiting for help to arrive, reassure them, and keep them comfortable.

3. Monitor their level of response.

See first aid advice for sepsis in babies and young children.

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