Diagnosis

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

Blood tests

A blood sample drawn from two distinct sites is tested for:

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

Other laboratory tests

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may also want to run tests on one or more of the following bodily fluids:

  • Urine. If your doctor suspects that you have a urinary tract infection, he or she may want to check your urine for signs of bacteria.
  • Wound secretions. If you have a wound that appears infected, testing a sample of the wound's secretions can help show what type of antibiotic might work best.
  • Respiratory secretions. If you are coughing up mucus (sputum), it may be tested to determine what type of germ is causing the infection.

Imaging tests

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

  • X-ray. X-rays are good for visualizing problems in your lungs.
  • Computerized tomography (CT). Infections in your appendix or pancreas are easier to see on CT scans. This technology takes X-rays from a variety of angles and combines them to depict cross-sectional slices of your body's internal structures.
  • 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 or ovaries.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRIs may be helpful in identifying soft tissue infections. This technology uses radio waves and a strong magnet to produce cross-sectional images of the internal structures of your body.

Treatment

Early, aggressive treatment boosts your chances of surviving sepsis. People who have sepsis require close monitoring and treatment in a hospital intensive care unit. If you have sepsis or septic shock, 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 should begin immediately. Initially you'll receive broad-spectrum antibiotics, which are effective against a variety of bacteria. The antibiotics are administered intravenously (IV).

    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. People who have sepsis often receive intravenous fluids right away, usually within three hours.
  • Vasopressors. If your blood pressure remains too low even after receiving intravenous fluids, you may be given a vasopressor medication, which constricts blood vessels and helps to 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 gangrene.

Clinical trials

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

Nov. 16, 2018
References
  1. AskMayoExpert. Sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2017.
  2. Jameson JL, et al., eds. Sepsis and septic shock. In: Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 20th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2018. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com. Accessed Oct. 4, 2018.
  3. Singer M, et al. The third international consensus definitions for sepsis and septic shock (Sepsis-3). JAMA. 2016;315(8):801.
  4. Hall JB, et al. Sepsis, severe shock, and septic shock. In: Principles of Critical Care. 4th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2015. https://www.accessmedicine.mhmedical.com. Accessed Oct. 4, 2018.
  5. Neviere R. Sepsis syndromes in adults: Epidemiology, definitions, clinical presentation, diagnosis, and prognosis. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Oct. 4, 2018.
  6. Rhodes A, et al. Surviving sepsis campaign: International guidelines for management of sepsis and septic shock: 2016. Intensive Care Medicine. 2017;43:304.
  7. Schmidt GA, et al. Evaluation and management of suspected sepsis and septic shock in adults. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Oct. 4, 2018.
  8. Sepsis and septic shock. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/critical-care-medicine/sepsis-and-septic-shock/sepsis-and-septic-shock. Accessed Oct. 4, 2018.

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