Categories: The Latest in Health

Sepsis Nursing Diagnosis: The Critical Signs

Many of us have heard of the term sepsis, and that it’s linked to some form of infection. What many people don’t know is not only how common cases of sepsis can be, but also the key signs that someone might be suffering from sepsis because it can be increasingly difficult to spot, making it a life-threatening condition that can occur both in children and adults. Without early identification and emergency treatment the chances of surviving sepsis are greatly reduced. 

What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is sometimes also referred to as septicemia or blood poisoning. At its most basic level sepsis is what happens when the body overreacts to a threat (infection) and instead of protecting the body it starts to damage the body, this can cause irreparable tissue damage and if left untreated can lead to organ failure which can be fatal. Although there are people who are at greater risk of developing sepsis, no one is immune from it. Sepsis can develop from any form of infection that gets into the body, this can be from poor sanitation, or catching infectious diseases from an open wound.



Once an infection gets into the body it’s the job of our immune system to jump into battle, like infection-fighting Pac-Men, white antibodies head out on a seek and destroy mission absorbing any of the infectious germs that they come into contact with the trespassing infection then unable to develop any further. In the cases of sepsis these crime-fighting antibodies don’t realise when they’ve completed their job and continue to absorb and destroy cells, not identifying these cells are our own tissue or organ cells. Essentially what happens is the immune system unknowingly turns on itself and if not caught quickly, can lead to the loss of limbs and even death.

Two important factors that increase the survival rates of sepsis is early identification and immediate treatment management. In response to the need for quick treatment, a clinical care bundle was created for health professionals to follow when anyone meets the criteria, called sepsis 6.

September 13th is World Sepsis Day, an entire day dedicated to the spreading of awareness and knowledge of the condition because Sepsis is not only treatable when identified early, but it is also preventable.  

Key Facts About Sepsis

Sepsis can be prevented by taking steps to make vaccines against infectious diseases widely available and improving basic hygiene and sanitation.

Every 4 seconds someone dies from Sepsis, it’s likely that this was preventable

Sepsis is not contagious, but anyone can get it. A simply cut that isn’t kept clean can lead to sepsis

80% of people develop sepsis out of hospital

For more key facts about sepsis please visit World Sepsis Day


Who can sepsis affect?

Anyone and everyone could catch sepsis, however, that being said there are groups that are at a higher risk of developing sepsis. Young children are at a higher risk of sepsis, newborn are at an especially higher risk of catching infections which in turn increases their risk of sepsis as children start to grow and develop, those who are not vaccinated are at a much higher risk of sepsis. People living with chronic conditions such as heart or lung disease or those with a weakened immune system such as diabetes, HIV or they do not have a spleen. This is because their immune systems are already somewhat compromised by their health condition, they also might be more likely to have wounds which take longer to heal which can make them more vulnerable to catching infections.  The eldery are another group that are deemed to be a higher risk group, much like we have previously discussed this is down to the likelihood of having a weakened immune system, and more frequent infections, such as UTI (urinary tract infections) or pneumonia.

Worldwide around 27-30 million people have sepsis at any one time, of those between 6-9 million will die. The Royal College of Nurses (RCN) reports that in the UK there are around 123,000 cases a year with approx 37,000 associated deaths, the RCN recognises the importance of early identification and support nurses and other healthcare workers in different settings across the UK in spreading awareness of spotting the early warning signs. Those who do survive aren’t guaranteed a full recovery either, often the tissue damage can lead to amputations and sustained organ damage or failure can result in chronic health conditions that impact a person’s quality of life after recovery.


Signs & Symptoms

Sepsis can be difficult to identify early because in the early stages it can look and feel much like generally feeling unwell or seasonal flu. But there are some signs that many people don’t realise could indicate a need to seek emergency help. 

For babies and small children:

  1. Blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue
  2. A rash that does not fade when you roll a glass over it, the same as meningitis
  3. Difficulty breathing (you may notice grunting noises or their stomach sucking under their ribcage), breathlessness or breathing very fast
  4. A weak, high-pitched cry that’s not like their normal cry
  5. Not responding like they normally do, or not interested in feeding or normal activities
  6. Being sleepier than normal or difficult to wake

They may not have all these symptoms

(Taken from NHS)

For older children or adults:

  1. New onset of Confusion or Altered Mental State
  2. Temperature >38.3 or <36 degrees Celsius
  3. Heart Rate >90 beats per minute
  4. Respiratory Rate (counted over 60seconds) >20 breaths per minute

They may not have all these symptoms.

(The Sepsis Toolkit)


Sepsis 6 Treatment

If someone attends hospital with a query of Sepsis, it is critical that they receive treatment immediately . Studies have shown that quick intervention can significantly increase the survival rate of sepsis patients, these interventions make up a clinical pathway known as ‘Sepsis 6’. When the care bundle is carried out within the first hour of treatment it can reduce the likelihood of fatal outcomes.

Sepsis 6 Care Bundle



What should you do if you think someone has sepsis?

It can be really difficult to spot the signs of sepsis, all health professionals know how serious sepsis can be if left untreated and would advise it is always better to be safe than sorry.

If you experience any of the symptoms listed or spot them in children or adults call 999 or get to A&E immediately

World Sepsis Day

September 13th is World Sepsis Day where health professionals and those affected across the world come together not only to share their experiences of sepsis but to raise awareness of the condition in the hope to reduce the number of preventable deaths in the future.

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