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What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a complication caused by the body’s overwhelming response to an infection.  Sepsis often changes how well blood flows to different parts of the body and may result in damage to organs (such as kidneys or liver).

What are the signs of sepsis?

Your child may have some of the following symptoms early on:

  • high temperature, or lower than usual temperature
  • fast heart rate
  • fast breathing
  • chills and shivering

Your doctor may refer to these symptoms as “SIRS” (Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome).

While most patients with SIRS do not develop severe sepsis, your child may develop additional symptoms of severe sepsis or septic shock (when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level) including:

  • irritability or confusion or lethargy
  • cold and clammy skin or change in skin color
  • nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • extreme pain or discomfort

How is sepsis diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose sepsis using a number of physical findings like fever, increased heart rate, and increased breathing rate. They also may do lab tests that check for signs of infection. Some patients may require testing of the urine, blood or spinal fluid, or X-rays of the chest or abdomen.

Since many of the symptoms of sepsis, like fever and difficulty breathing, are the same as in other conditions, sepsis can be hard to diagnose in its early stages.

How is sepsis treated?

Doctors will treat the infection, keep the vital organs working, and prevent or treat a drop in blood pressure.

Doctors treat sepsis with therapy as soon as possible. Many patients receive oxygen and intravenous (IV) fluids to maintain normal blood oxygen levels and blood pressure.  In some cases, antibiotics are provided.

Patients with severe sepsis or septic shock are often transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit until the signs of sepsis have improved.

Your child may be placed in isolation precautions and will not be able to leave the room. This is to prevent spreading germs to other children. Hospital workers entering the room wear gloves, a mask, and a gown.

When should I call the doctor?

If you see any of the signs for sepsis return during the hospital stay please alert your nurse and describe your concerns. After your child goes home, call your regular pediatrician or bring your child back to the hospital if any signs of sepsis return.


Reviewed 5/2017

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Minnesota Family Resource Center library, or visit

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