Sepsis Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

Sometimes referred to as septicemia or blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to an infection, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Some people are at higher risk of developing sepsis, including the very young, the very old, those with chronic illnesses, and those with a weakened or impaired immune system. Sepsis is not contagious. However, if sepsis is not treated early, it can damage your organs and can even cause death.

Some people are at higher risk of developing sepsis, including the very young, the very old, those with chronic illnesses, and those with a weakened or impaired immune system. Sepsis is not contagious, however, if sepsis is not treated early, it can damage your organs and can even cause death.

How You Can Help Prevent Infections

  • Follow infection control requirements, like hand hygiene, and receive recommended vaccines (e.g., flu and pneumococcal).
  • Think sepsis. Know sepsis signs and symptoms to identify and treat the disease early.
  • Act fast. If sepsis is suspected, get medical attention immediately. 

Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis

  • S ► Shivering, fever, or very cold
  • E ► Extreme pain or discomfort
  • P ► Pale, discolored, clammy or sweaty skin
  • S ► Sleepy, confusion or disorientation
  • I ►" I feel like I might die."
  • S ► Shortness of breath

Vital Signs & Biomarker Levels

The key to detecting sepsis early is accurate and timely completion and documentation of vital signs. Any changes or trends in vital signs should also be noted. If you or a member of your family has any of these symptoms, go to the Emergency Department immediately! 

  • Body Temperature: less than 96.8 F or greater than 100.4 F
  • Heart Rate: more than 90 beats per minute 
  • Respiratory Rate: more than 20 breaths per minute
  • Very Low Blood Pressure

Diagnosis of Sepsis

Unlike diseases or conditions like diabetes or kidney stones, there is no one test that can tell you have sepsis. Diagnosis is made after your doctor evaluates your symptoms, your history, and other tests that may indicate you have an infection. This can then lead your doctor to suspect you have sepsis. Some tests that may be done to determine if a patient has sepsis include:

Some tests that may be done to determine if a patient has sepsis include:

Blood Tests

  • Complete blood count
  • Lacate
  • C-reactive protein
  • Blood culture
  • Prothrombin time and partial thromboplastin time (PT and PTT), platelet count, and d-dimer

Diagnostic Tests

  • Chest X-Ray (CXR)

Urine Tests 

  • Urinalysis
  • Urine culture

Treatment for Sepsis  

Sepsis is a medical emergency and needs to be treated as quickly and efficiently as possible. Treatments often include multiple types of antibiotics and IV fluids, such as saline.

Visit sepsis.org to learn more.

Get immediate medical attention if you have any signs or symptoms of an infection or sepsis.

To find an emergency care specialist at MedStar St. Mary's Hospital, call 301-475-6111.


According to the Maryland Hospital Association (MHA), sepsis is among the top 10 most common and potentially preventable complications across Maryland hospitals, and it is also a leading cause of mortality and readmission. Continually rising sepsis rates spurred the MHA to partner with the Maryland Patient Safety Commission to create an 18-month collaborative of 11 Maryland hospitals to work toward reducing hospital sepsis mortality.

MedStar St. Mary’s participated in the state program and is a partner in Cohort 2 of the Improving Sepsis Survival Initiative via the Maryland Patient Safety Center. The hospital is also helping to take the efforts to the next level by partnering with other regional hospitals to establish a Southern Maryland Collaborative in order to offer education, facilitate networking, and establish joint problem-solving.