Sepsis: the signs and symptoms

Sepsis4You may have heard about Sepsis, the silent killer, in the news.  If you haven’t, Sepsis is a serious complication of an infection. Although Sepsis is more common than heart attacks, much less is known about the terrifying disease. Without fast treatment, Sepsis can lead to multiple organ failure and death.

Sepsis accounts for 44,000 deaths in the UK every year. Recent NHS data shows that of the 44,000 deaths each year, 14,000 were preventable. The silent killer kills more people than bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined. Every year, 150,000 people in the UK develop Sepsis and costs the NHS £2.93 billion a year.

Survivors of Sepsis are often left with life changing and debilitating disabilities such as amputated limbs or brain damage.

What is Sepsis?

When the body’s immune system overreacts to an infection, Sepsis occurs. This results in inflammation, swelling and blood clots throughout the whole body. From this, the body goes into Septic Shock. Septic Shock leads to a large decrease in blood pressure which ultimately interrupts the blood supply to vital organs.


Sepsis symptoms in children under five (from the NHS)

You must go straight to A&E or call 999 if your child has any of these symptoms:

– looks mottled, bluish or pale

– is very lethargic or difficult to wake

– feels abnormally cold to touch

– is breathing very fast

– has a rash that does not fade when you press it

– has a fit or convulsion

Get medical advice urgently from NHS 111

You must urgently seek medical advice from NHS 111 if your child has any of the below symptoms, is getting worse or is sicker than you would expect. It is better to act than to not, so trust your instincts and seek medical advice urgently.


– over 38C in babies under three months

– over 39C in babies aged three to six months

– any high temperature in a child who cannot be encouraged to show interest in anything

– low temperature (below 36C – check three times in a 10-minute period)


– harder to breathe than normal

– making “grunting” noises with each breath

– can’t say more than a few words at once

– breathing that obviously pauses


– not had a wee or wet nappy for 12 hours

Eating and drinking

– new baby under one month old with no interest in feeding

– not drinking for more than eight hours (when awake)

– bile-stained (green), bloody or black vomit/sick

Activity and body

– soft spot on a baby’s head is bulging

– eyes look “sunken”

– child cannot be encouraged to show interest in anything

– baby is floppy

– weak, “whining” or continuous crying in a younger child

– older child who’s confused

– not responding or very irritable

– stiff neck, especially when trying to look up and down


Sepsis symptoms in older children and adults (from the NHS)

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


When should you seek medical help for suspected Sepsis?

Suspected Sepsis should not be taken lightly.

You must seek medical advice urgently from NHS 111 if you’ve recently had an infection or injury and you have possible early signs of Sepsis. If Sepsis is suspected, you’ll usually be referred to hospital for further diagnosis and treatment. Severe sepsis and septic shock are medical emergencies. If you think you or someone in your care has one of these conditions, go straight to A&E or call 999.


Who’s at risk of Sepsis?

ANYONE can develop Sepsis after a minor infection such as a UTI or an injury. However, there are some people who are more vulnerable such as, people with a medical condition that results in a weakened immune system, people who are very young or very old and people who have recently had surgery or who have injuries as a result of an accident.


To learn more about Sepsis and other medical conditions, Ajuda runs First Aid training courses every month at our training academy in Cardiff Bay. To book a space on one of our popular, life-saving training courses, please contact Daisy on admin@ or call 029 2057 6883.