Septic shock

Introduction

Septic shock is a life-threatening condition that happens when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level.

The fall in blood pressure is a reaction to a serious infection that develops in the blood. This causes a response from the body known as sepsis. If sepsis is not treated, it will lead to septic shock.

Symptoms of septic shock include cold skin and an increased heartbeat.

If you have septic shock, you will usually be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) so that your body’s functions and organs can be supported while the infection is treated. Read more about treating septic shock.

Sepsis

Sepsis occurs when an infection spreads through the blood, causing symptoms to develop throughout the whole body.

The term sepsis is sometimes used to refer to blood poisoning (septicaemia). This is not entirely accurate because sepsis is not just limited to the blood but affects the whole body, including the organs. Sepsis is usually caused by a bacterial infection, but it can sometimes be caused by viral or fungal infections.

The effects of sepsis

Sepsis can affect many of the vital processes of the body including:

  • blood pressure
  • breathing
  • organ function

Sepsis can result in septic shock if it is not treated immediately.

Survival rate

Septic shock is very serious and the death rate is high. Over half of all people with septic shock will die from it.

If you have septic shock, your chance of survival will depend on:

  • the cause of infection
  • the number of organs that have failed
  • how soon treatment is started
Last updated: 28 June 2012

Continue to next section: Symptoms of septic shock