Signs of Sepsis: A Potentially Deadly Complication of an Infection

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Playing A Life-Threatening Blister

The Doctors discuss the recent story of a young boy who was rushed to the emergency room after a foot blister became infected, ultimately leading to a life-threatening condition known as sepsis. ER physician Dr. Travis Stork explains sepsis, and describes how a simple infection could develop into this dangerous diagnosis.

Sepsis is a potentially deadly complication of an infection, which occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight infection trigger inflammatory responses throughout the body. Without treatment, sepsis can lead to septic shock, in which blood pressure drops dramatically, possibly resulting in death. Sepsis can trigger a myriad of changes that can damage several important organ systems, causing them to fail.

Those at highest risk of sepsis include the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.

Common symptoms of Sepsis

Patients must exhibit two or more of the following symptoms to receive a diagnosis of sepsis:

  • Body temperature above 101 degrees Fahrenheit, or below 96.8 degrees.
  • Heart rate higher than 90 beats per minute
  • Respiratory rate higher than 20 breaths per minute
  • Probably or confirmed infection

The diagnosis is upgraded to severe if the patient exhibits at least one of the following symptoms: 

  • Significantly decreased urine output  
  • Sharp change in mental status  
  • Decreased platelet count
  • Difficulty breathing  
  • Abdominal pain  
  • Abnormal heart-pumping function  


Early treatment is crucial in improving the chances of survival for a patient with sepsis. A course of antibiotics and large amounts of IV fluids may be used. Patients with severe sepsis will require close monitoring, as well as lifesaving measures to stabilize breathing and heart function, particularly if the condition worsens to septic shock. 

Source: The Mayo Clinic