Severe Sepsis

Sepsis is your body’s overwhelming toxic reaction to an infection. The symptoms of sepsis in its early stages can be quite vague and easy to overlook, but if left untreated, sepsis can progress to severe sepsis or septic shock.

Sepsis causes an inflammatory response in your body. Severe sepsis occurs when one or more of your body’s organs is damaged from this inflammatory response. Any organ can be affected, your heart, brain, kidneys, lungs, and/or liver. The symptoms you can experience are based on which organ or organs that are affected. For example, if your lungs are damaged, your breathing is affected, if your kidneys are damaged, your ability to urinate is affected, and so on. People with severe sepsis can also develop a condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

Severe sepsis symptoms can include:

  • Changes in skin color, or patches of discolored skin
  • Low or no urine output
  • Disorientation, drowsiness, changes in mental ability, loss of consciousness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Chills
  • Extreme weakness


Most people with severe sepsis must be treated in an intensive care unit (ICU), where they will receive fluids and antibiotics, and treatment to try to reverse organ damage and to prevent further damage. They are usually the sickest patients in the hospital and time is of the utmost importance.

As with sepsis, anyone can develop severe sepsis, but there are some factors that can increase your risk. These include having a chronic illness, such as COPD or diabetes, or having a weakened immune system from medications or illness.

Doctors are now better at treating severe sepsis than they were just 30 years ago, resulting in more survivors. However, many of these survivors do experience long-lasting complications related to their illness, both physically and mentally. To learn more about issues that can affect severe sepsis survivors, visit visit the Post-Sepsis Syndrome page and Life After Sepsis. You can also learn more here: Diagnosed with Sepsis.

If your blood pressure drops in addition to the organ damage, this becomes septic shock.