Sepsis 101: How to tell if your immune system is going into overdrive - DoctorDoctor
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Sepsis 101: How to tell if your immune system is going into overdrive

Sepsis is the leading cause of death from infection around the world, according to the Australian Sepsis Network. This month marks World Sepsis Day, an awareness-raising campaign for the life-threatening illness. Here’s what you need to know.

What is sepsis?
Sepsis is a potentially deadly inflammation of the body that occurs when your immune system goes into overdrive. It’s categorised into three levels of severity: sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock.

What causes sepsis?
Sepsis can occur when your body is fighting an infection. Your immune system tries fight infection by releasing chemicals into the blood stream through your system, but it produces too many. This can cause inflammation, putting your organs at risk.

According to the Australian Sepsis Network, the most common causes of sepsis are respiratory infections, abdominal infections and urinary infections.

Who is at risk of sepsis?
Sepsis most commonly occurs in patients already in hospital. The highest risk groups are infants, kids, elderly people and those with weak immune systems. It’s also more common in people with chronic disease or who have experienced burns or physical trauma.

How can sepsis be identified?
Early detection of sepsis is key. It’s usually simple to treat, unless it becomes severe and potentially life-threatening. Seek medical advice if you are at risk and experiencing any of the symptoms. For example, you may be at risk if you have a urinary infection, and your symptoms change or worsen despite treatment. Sepsis can be diagnosed by a Doctor based on an assessment and examination, though further tests may also be required.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?
According to the Mayo Clinic, you need to have at least two out of these three symptoms to be diagnosed with sepsis:

  • A temperature above 38.3C or below 36C
  • A heart rate higher than 90 beats per minute
  • A respiratory rate higher than 20 breaths per minute

How is sepsis treated?
Sepsis may be treated with medication, such as antibiotics. In more serious cases, you may require supportive care, such as oxygen and intravenous fluids. Surgery is also an option for removing the sources of infection.

Watch the explainer
This three-minute video was produced by the World Sepsis Day campaign. It gives an overview of sepsis.

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