Surgery is a procedure that can affect your body in many ways aside from the actual reason for the operation. Surgical procedures can be major, like open heart surgery, or minor, like a biopsy. What they have in common is an incision. Any type of surgical procedure exposes your body to infection and other complications, some of which could develop into sepsis.
Sepsis, which was often called blood poisoning, is the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.
Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations.
How does sepsis occur after surgery?
Infection after surgery can cause sepsis. This could be infection in the incision (the opening in the skin) or an infection that develops after the surgery, such as pneumonia or a UTI.
When you have surgery, it is important to monitor the incision, watching it for signs of infection. This would be:
- Increasing redness around the incision
- Pus or other fluid coming from the incision
- Warmer than usual skin around the incision
- Increased pain around the incision
Pneumonia is not uncommon after having surgery, which is why it is important to get up and about as quickly as is possible after the operation. Deep breathing and coughing exercises are also helpful in keeping your lungs clear. Patients who needed a ventilator to help them breathe are also at a higher risk of developing pneumonia.
Other infections, such as UTIs may develop if you had to be catheterized (a tube inserted into your bladder). The longer the catheter remains in place, the higher the risk of infection.
If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.”
The information here is also available as a Sepsis Information Guide, which is a downloadable format for easier printing.
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.
Suggested Citation: Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Surgery. 2023. https://www.sepsis.org/sepsisand/surgery/
Updated June 7, 2023.