First Aid for Sepsis

By Bill, posted

Sepsis can occur when an infection causes the immune system to respond in a way that damages the inner body. Primary infection sites often include the lungs, urinary tract, abdominal organs and brain. Septic shock is a life threatening condition that occurs when the blood pressure drops to dangerously low levels after an infection.

Sepsis is not typically covered on mainstream first aid courses despite a reported 137,000 cases each year (NHS UK). Identifying common symptoms and knowing when to get help is important as early treatment improves survival chances.

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Symptoms of sepsis and septic shock could be similar. Non medical professionals should keep things simple. Trying to differentiate between the two could be to challenging particularly during a stressful situation.

Look out for any of the following:

  • Rash that does not fade under the pressure of a glass
  • Child that is difficult to wake / baby that is floppy and unresponsive
  • Seizures and convulsions
  • Baby’s fontanelle (soft spot) on top of head is bulging 
  • loss of appetite / interest
  • Struggling with breathing (not normal)
  • Fast heartbeat and breathing
  • High temperature / fever

Septic shock can set in quickly so look out for these symptoms as well:

  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Pale, cold and clammy skin
  • Lack of urine production (not gone for 24 hours?)
  • Muscular, neck or back pain
  • Slurred speech, confusion and disorientation


Sepsis and septic shock are medical emergencies. Call 999 or rush to A&E if you suspect someone has the condition. When symptoms are mild it is best to seek advice from 111 (non emergency) to determine the next course of action.

In the event of an emergency lay the casualty down and elevate the legs. Offer plenty of reassurance and await the arrival of an ambulance. Never be afraid to call 999 as like meningitis the condition can take a grip very quickly.

Risk Groups

Sadly around 37,000 (NHS UK) people die from the condition each year. There are some particular risk groups to remember if you are analyzing the condition:

  • The very young or very old
  • Pre existing medical conditions which lower the immune system
  • Anyone who has recently had surgery and/or recovering from wounds
  • Recovering from serious illness

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