Diagnosis

Doctors often order several tests to try to pinpoint underlying infection.

Blood tests

Blood samples are used to test for:

  • Evidence of infection
  • Clotting problems
  • Abnormal liver or kidney function
  • Impaired oxygen availability
  • Electrolyte imbalances

Other lab tests

Other lab tests to identify the source of the infection might include samples of:

  • Urine
  • Wound secretions
  • Respiratory secretions

Imaging tests

If the site of infection is not readily found, your doctor may order one or more of the following imaging tests:

  • X-ray. X-rays can identify infections in your lungs.
  • Ultrasound. This technology uses sound waves to produce real-time images on a video monitor. Ultrasound may be particularly useful to check for infections in your gallbladder and kidneys.
  • Computerized tomography (CT). This technology takes X-rays from a variety of angles and combines them to depict cross-sectional slices of your body's internal structures. Infections in your liver, pancreas or other abdominal organs are easier to see on CT scans.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This technology uses radio waves and a strong magnet to produce cross-sectional or 3D images of the internal structures of your body. MRIs may be helpful in identifying soft tissue or bone infections.

More Information

Treatment

Early, aggressive treatment increases the likelihood of recovery. People who have sepsis require close monitoring and treatment in a hospital intensive care unit. Lifesaving measures may be needed to stabilize breathing and heart function.

Medications

A number of medications are used in treating sepsis and septic shock. They include:

  • Antibiotics. Treatment with antibiotics begins as soon as possible. Broad-spectrum antibiotics, which are effective against a variety of bacteria, are usually used first. After learning the results of blood tests, your doctor may switch to a different antibiotic that's targeted to fight the particular bacteria causing the infection.
  • Intravenous fluids. The use of intravenous fluids begins as soon as possible.
  • Vasopressors. If your blood pressure remains too low even after receiving intravenous fluids, you may be given a vasopressor medication. This drug constricts blood vessels and helps increase blood pressure.

Other medications you may receive include low doses of corticosteroids, insulin to help maintain stable blood sugar levels, drugs that modify the immune system responses, and painkillers or sedatives.

Supportive care

People who have sepsis often receive supportive care that includes oxygen. Depending on your condition, you may need to have a machine help you breathe. If your kidneys have been affected, you may need to have dialysis.

Surgery

Surgery may be needed to remove sources of infection, such as collections of pus (abscesses), infected tissues or dead tissues (gangrene).

Clinical trials

Explore Mayo Clinic studies testing new treatments, interventions and tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage this condition.

Jan. 19, 2021
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