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Answering Questions for Sepsis Survivor Week: How to Help a Sepsis Survivor

February 12, 2020

When sepsis survivors are discharged from the hospital, the healthcare professionals caring for them believe that the survivors can cope and recuperate at home or in a convalescent/rehabilitation environment. For many, this is a step towards full recovery and resuming their life as it was before they became ill. However, sometimes the recovery is longer and more challenging.

If you know someone who is recovering from sepsis or septic shock, you may have questions about the recovery and prognosis (outcome). Here are some of the most common questions that Sepsis Alliance has received over the years:

How did my loved one get sepsis?

Sepsis is caused by an infection, any kind of infection from the flu to an infected paper cut. In other words, you can only get sepsis if there is an infection. Most of the time, doctors are able to tell you what type of infection triggered sepsis, but sometimes the infection is never discovered. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to tell ahead of time which patients will develop sepsis; doctors don’t know why two people can get the same infection, but one may get sepsis and the other one not.

How will I know what to do once my loved one is home?

Going home from the hospital after a serious illness can be scary. But if you’re armed with information, the process can be a lot easier. Sepsis Alliance has a Hospital Discharge List that can help you understand what type of information you need to make the transition from hospital to recovery easier. It includes suggested questions to ask and place to write notes and concerns. This list can be used by the patient or by the caregiver.

Can I get sepsis if someone who lives with me has it?

Sepsis isn’t contagious. Sepsis is your body’s toxic response to an infection, like pain is the response to a broken bone. That being said, the infection that caused your loved one’s sepsis could be contagious, such as the flu. If you do contract the same infection, this doesn’t mean you will develop sepsis, however.

Can sepsis come back?

If your loved one had sepsis or went into septic shock, they are at a higher risk of developing it again if they get an infection. About one-third of all patients and more than 40% of older patients have another hospitalization within three months of the initial sepsis, most commonly due to a repeat episode of sepsis or another infection.

How can I watch for signs of sepsis?

Look for signs of infections first. For example, a urinary tract infection can cause an increased need to urinate, urgency to urinate, burning on urination, cloudy or smelly urine, and even confusion, especially in older people. If your loved one seems to be acting out of the ordinary or doesn’t seem well, this should be checked. Also remember the memory aid TIME™. This stands for Temperature higher or lower than usual; Infection; Mental decline or drowsiness; and Extreme illness or pain. However, even if you don’t notice any signs of infection but your loved one is showing signs of sepsis, call 911 or bring them to your local emergency department as soon as possible.

My loved one has been home for several weeks and still hasn’t gone back to school/work. Shouldn’t they be fully recovered by now?

Recovery from sepsis can be quick or it can take a long time, depending on the aftereffects it may have left behind. Many survivors report feeling chronic pain or fatigue, or having difficulty with short-term memory. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) isn’t uncommon as well. Almost 60% of survivors do experience a drop in mental or physical function after their discharge and about one-sixth of survivors have problems with their memory and concentration, as well as making decisions.

I’m finding it hard to care for my loved one, they’ve changed so much since becoming ill with sepsis. I’m getting frustrated. What can I do?

Caregivers to anyone who has survived a critical illness like sepsis are at risk of developing mental health issues like depression, anxiety, even PTSD. If you find it difficult to cope, it’s vital that you get help for yourself. Get out and do things for yourself. Talk to people, accept offers of help, even if it’s to drive a child to school or to provide you with a warm meal. See if there are any self-help groups for people who live with someone who has been seriously ill. Consider seeing a counselor or therapist to help you learn how to deal with your situation. A serious illness has a significant impact on more than the patient alone – it affects so many more people around them.


The aftereffects of a serious illness can last a long time, for both the survivor and their loved ones.