Main content

    Learning About Your Health

    Severe Sepsis and Septic Shock: Care and Treatment

    Printer-friendly PDF of SepsisOpens new window (84KB)
    (Download a free copy of Adobe Acrobat ReaderOpens new window)

    What is Sepsis?

    Sepsis is the term used when the body is fighting a severe infection, usually caused by bacteria. An infection can be limited to a particular body region or it can be widespread in the bloodstream. Short bursts of low levels of bacteria usually do not cause a problem; these are usually fought off by a person’s immune system. However, high levels of bacteria can overwhelm the body, causing tissue damage and leading to septic shock. This may cause low blood pressure affecting the brain, heart, kidneys, or liver.

    Back to top

    What are the Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis?

    Signs of sepsis include the following:

    • Fever

    • Chills and severe shaking

    • Rapid heart rate or palpitations

    • Difficulty or rapid breathing

    • Confusion or disorientation

    • Dizziness

    • Decreased urination

    Back to top


    • Blood will be tested to monitor the body's immune response, the bacteria causing the infection, and the severity of the infection.

    • Imaging studies, such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs may be ordered to get a better picture of certain organs or areas in the body to look for infection.

    Back to top


    Most patients will be in an intensive care unit or transitional care unit to allow close monitoring. Treatment may include:

    • Antibiotics

    • Intravenous fluids may be given with a large IV placed in the neck to deliver large amounts of fluid in a short amount of time

    • Oxygen therapy may be delivered in high doses by the use of a ventilator

    • IV medications may be given to help support blood pressure or to improve heart function

    Produced by the Center for Patient and Community Education in association with the staff and physicians at California Pacific Medical Center. Date: 12/09

    Funded by: A generous donation from the Mr. and Mrs. Arthur A. Ciocca Foundation.

    Note: This information is not meant to replace any information or personal medical advice which you get directly from your doctor(s). If you have any questions about this information, such as the risks or benefits of the treatment listed, please ask your doctor(s).

    Back to top