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​Symptoms of sepsis

A patient with sepsis should exhibit at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Fast breathing (i.e. more than 20 breaths per min), or hyperventilation suggested by a blood gas test
  • Very low or very high white blood cell count
  • Heart rate higher than 90 beats per minute
  • Fever above 38°C (100.4°F) or abnormally low body temperature below 36°C (96.8°F)

Sepsis and septic shock

If the underlying infection is not brought under control or if the patient’s immune system or health is very poor, the patient may go on to develop septic shock. Septic shock is when a very severe infection leads to life-threatening low blood pressure. The low blood pressure affects the oxygen supply to major organs, which can lead to single- or multiple-organ failure, and even death. The person may slip into a coma if there is insufficient blood supply to the brain.

“However, not all patients with sepsis will get septic shock. It is not usually possible to identify those who will recover quickly and who are likely to develop further complications. Sepsis involves a complex interplay of host, organism, treatment of infection and supportive treatment,” says Dr Kang Mei Ling​, Senior Consultant, Department of Infectious Diseases, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth​ group.​

What precautions can be taken against sepsis?

Although there is no medication to reduce the risk of sepsis, using vaccines or prophylactic antibiotics in certain conditions to prevent severe infections can help.

Also, if you have a fever higher than 38°C and experience shortness of breath and/or a fast heart rate, visit your doctor immediately so that you can be assessed and treated early.

For more information on the causes of sepsis​​​, see previous page.

Ref: R14