Identifying sepsis

Know the signs of sepsis and when to get help 

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that happens when the body overreacts to an infection or injury and starts to damage its own tissues and organs.

Our body’s immune system usually helps to protect us and fight infection, but with sepsis it goes into overdrive, which can lead to shock and multiple organ failure without urgent treatment.

Who’s at risk?

Sepsis can develop in anyone of any age who has suffered a minor injury or infection. While it mostly affects very young children, older adults and people with underlying health conditions, it can sometimes occur in people who are otherwise fit and healthy.

What to look out for in adults:

  • Very high or low temperature
  • Slurred speech, not making sense or confusion
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passing less urine than normal
  • Blotchy or cold arms and legs.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Fast or difficulty breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea and vomiting.

What to look out for in children:

  • Fast breathing
  • A fit or convulsion
  • Looks mottled, bluish or pale
  • Has a rash that doesn’t fade when you press it
  • Very lethargic or difficult to wake
  • Feels abnormally cold to touch.

Symptoms in a child under five may include:

  • Not feeding
  • Vomiting repeatedly
  • Has not passed urine for 12 hours.

What to do

If you or someone you look after has a quick progression of these symptoms, phone 999 or go to A&E straight away.

Time is critical when it comes to treating sepsis and the quicker a person receives treatment, the better their chances of recovery.

Treatment for sepsis

If you’re admitted to hospital with sepsis, you should get antibiotics within one hour of arriving.

If sepsis is not treated quickly it can turn into septic shock and cause your organs to fail, which is life-threatening.

Other tests or treatments may include:

  • A machine to help you breathe if oxygen levels are low
  • Giving fluids intravenously 
  • Surgery to remove areas of infection.

Visit Sepsis Research and Symptoms of sepsis - NHS ( for more information.