Sepsis and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition caused by a trauma. The trauma can be a one-time thing (such as being victim of a crime) or long-term (such as living in a war zone or through a natural disaster). No one knows why some people bounce back after a trauma while others develop PTSD or why some people experience PTSD symptoms within weeks of the trauma and others may only start having symptoms years later.

Sepsis is a life-threatening emergency that happens when your body’s response to an infection damages vital organs and, often, causes death. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Patients treated for sepsis in an ICU undergo several traumas. They have a serious illness, potentially bringing them to the brink of dying. Their body is subjected to numerous medical interventions. They are often in severe pain, and they feel scared and helpless. Add to this being in the busy ICU environment 24 hours a day, and the situation is primed for a psychological reaction like PTSD.

Suggested Citation:
Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 2024.

Updated March 14, 2024.


More About PTSD


Some of the symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Having intrusive memories
  • Reliving events
  • Having upsetting dreams or nightmares about the event
  • Avoiding anything that may remind you of your experience
  • Feelings of hopelessness, depression, and anxiety
  • Easy startling
  • Trouble sleeping or concentrating
  • Sleeping too much
  • Getting irrationally angry or aggressive

The symptoms may come and go, or they may linger.

Depression affects family members too. When a loved one is critically ill, family members often feel helpless. They may relive events, wondering if they could have done something different, even once the emergency is over. They may feel guilt over past issues or fear for the future. Their experience is very different from that of the patient, but they, too, have gone through a stressful time and this may go unrecognized, and may lead to depression or anxiety.


Recognizing the problem is the first step towards helping sepsis survivors and their loved ones to deal with lasting psychological issues. People who experience signs of PTSD, depression, or anxiety should acknowledge this and seek help from their doctor or qualified mental healthcare practitioner. These conditions can often be successfully managed through a combination of self-care, counseling or medications.

PTSD can be part of post-sepsis syndrome, or PSS. Learn more here.

To learn more about PTSD and sepsis, read:

This PTSD Awareness Day, Remember the Caregivers

Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.

The American Psychiatric Association has more information about PTSD.

Related Resources

Tina H.

I’m 55 years old. My sepsis started with a urinary tract infection that I didn’t even know I had. (Sepsis and Urinary Tract Infections) My first symptom was nausea and it quickly progressed to mental confusion, extreme weakness and shortness of breath. I could barely walk. My son drove me to the ER and I had to have a wheelchair because I couldn’t walk into the ER. Diagnosed with sepsis, septic shock, acute kidney failure and ketoacidosis from being diabetic. (Sepsis and Septic Shock, Sepsis and Kidney Failure, Sepsis and Diabetes) I wound up being placed in the ICU for ... Read Full Story

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Alexa Foutch

I am a 16 time sepsis survivor. 3x septic shock survivor. What started as an asthma attack that put me on a ventilator, and I ended up vomiting which turned into aspiration pneumonia, however, I just kept getting sick after that though. I was septic with COVID and other illnesses. Come to find out I have primary ammagammabulemia. Because of sepsis I had to give up PTA school, am on supplemental oxygen 24/7 due to chronic respiratory failure, and have been on life support 14 times, I struggle every day with the after-effects of sepsis. I have been diagnosed with ... Read Full Story

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Richelle Cooke

On December 30, 2021, I was informed I had kidney stones in my left kidney, gallstones and a weird benign mass on my liver. I was thinking to myself, “Good God, why am I such a mess?!” By January 3rd, my urologist told me I had an 11mm kidney stone. Again, I was thinking what a mess I was. He told me he was going to take it out as soon as he could. (Sepsis and Kidney Stones) February 18th came, surgery day. I was put out and he attempted to remove the kidney stone through my urethra. At 2 ... Read Full Story

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Alexia H.

It began one night when my partner and I were out at dinner, I started to feel dizzy and just not right. Once home, I began burning a fever to the point we thought we could see steam because it was so cold in our room. I started shaking because I felt frozen and despite him insisting on the hospital, I thought I would be okay and slept through the night. In the morning, I got to work and was crippled by pain in my abdomen. I was sweating, swaying, and couldn’t put together a sentence, work then rushed me ... Read Full Story

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Jackie D.

I’ve suffered from Crohn’s and dysautonomia and other disabling autoimmune diseases for ten years. (Sepsis and Autoimmune Diseases) Last May I had multiple tooth abscesses and other medical procedures going on. (Sepsis and Dental Health) Two weeks after, our older daughter and our son graduated college and I was much more tired than usual. My family was watching TV that evening and I was curled up on the couch totally detached from everything going on, and my left hip was hurting worse than it ever had in a decade. Though exhausted, I couldn’t sleep all night, and by 5 a.m. ... Read Full Story

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)