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Symptoms of septic shock

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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If a serious bacterial infection develops in the blood, the body will react with an inflammatory response, causing symptoms throughout your body (systemic response). This is known as sepsis.

If sepsis is left untreated, septic shock may occur, causing blood pressure to fall dramatically. The drop in blood pressure (hypotension) will affect the oxygen supply to major organs, including the:

  • heart,
  • brain,
  • kidneys,
  • liver, and
  • intestines.

The symptoms of sepsis

The majority of people with sepsis will have a high temperature (fever) of 38°C (100.4°F) or over. In some cases, there may be low body temperature (hypothermia).

As well as affecting temperature, the initial symptoms of sepsis include:

  • feeling weak,
  • chills that cause shaking,
  • a rapid heart rate, and
  • rapid breathing.

There may be a number of other symptoms, depending on the type of infection and where in the body it started.

As sepsis develops, you may feel restless, confused or lethargic (lacking in energy). The symptoms include:

  • warm, flushed skin,
  • a very rapid heart rate,
  • a very rapid breathing rate,
  • urinating less and in smaller quantities, and
  • decreased blood pressure (particularly when standing).

In the latter stages of sepsis, the symptoms become particularly severe. They include:

  • a fall in body temperature below the normal level of 36-36.8°C (96.8-98.24°F),
  • severe shortness of breath, and
  • your skin will become cool and mottled (blotchy). It may turn blue (cyanosis) due to the reduced blood flow.

The reduced flow of blood may cause the tissue of vital organs, such as the liver or intestines, to die (necrosis).

Untreated sepsis will lead to septic shock

If these symptoms of sepsis are left untreated, or not controlled effectively with appropriate treatment, septic shock will occur.

Septic shock is also related to a number of other serious, life-threatening health conditions, such as:

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), where the lungs are unable to provide oxygen to the rest of the body.
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), where proteins that control blood clotting become abnormally active.
  • Meningococcemia, an acute (severe) infection of the bloodstream that often causes the blood vessels to become inflamed (vasculitis).
  • Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome, adrenal gland failure due to bleeding into the adrenal gland as a result of severe infection. The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys, inside the back of the abdominal wall.

See Useful links for more information about acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).


  • Shock: Shock is a short-term state of body weakness that usually happens after an accident of injury, caused when there is an insufficient supply of oxygen to the body.
  • Liver: The liver is the largest organ in the body. Its main jobs are to secrete bile (to help digestion), detoxify the blood and change food into energy.
  • Brain: The brain controls thought, memory and emotion. It sends messages to the body controlling movement, speech and senses.
  • Blood: Blood supplies oxygen to the body and removes carbon dioxide. It is pumped around the body by the heart.
  • Kidneys: Kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs located at the back of the abdomen. They remove waste and extra fluid from the blood and pass them out of the body as urine.
  • Heart: The heart is a muscular organ that pumps blood around the body.
  • Oxygen: Oxygen is an odourless, colourless gas that makes up about 20% of the air we breathe.
Medical Review: May 24, 2009

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