Information for patients and relatives

Sepsis always starts off with a local infection, which is caused by bacteria, fungi or protozoa (causing malaria). Basically, any infection might progress to sepsis. The inflammation's four basic symptoms as described by Celsus in the 1st century BC

  • Dolor (pain)
  • Calor (hyperthermia and fever)
  • Rubor (redness)
  • Tumor (swelling)

are always found at the site of the infection. If the organism is not able to limit the infection to the site of its origin (e.g. the lung when suffering from pneumonia or the tonsils when suffering from tonsillitis) microbial toxins cause an inflammation of all organs in the body, which can be compared to a chain reaction gone out of control after a nuclear power accident. Within only a few hours all vital organs show the symptoms of inflammation as stated above and are threatening to collapse:

  • cardiovascular system (shock)
  • kidneys (kidney failure)
  • lung (lung failure)
  • liver (liver failure)

Finally, the body's own immune defence turns against itself. In 1905, the famous German scientist Paul Ehrlich coined the term "Horror autotoxicus" for this condition. Without rapid intensive care there is no chance to survive such a condition. In spite of intensive care and medication with antibiotics about 25-40% of these patients die, because the diagnosis is often made too late.

How do I recognize sepsis?

Early symptoms of sepsis can be traced back to a low oxygen supply and may appear as:

  • confusion
  • high fever
  • accelerated breathing
  • accelerated heart beating
  • low blood pressure

These symptoms are less specific because they can also be found in a variety of different diseases. It is therefore difficult to make an early diagnosis of sepsis. New methods of analysing the blood of patients with infections help to detect sepsis much earlier than is possible using clinical criteria alone.

How can sepsis be prevented?

  • early antibiotic therapy
  • excision of the infected area if possible (e.g. excision of the gallbladder if inflamed); despite these messures, sepsis can still not be definitively prevented today

How can sepsis be treated?

Sepsis is treated by modern intensive care therapy according to evidence-based guidelines

  • mechanical respiration
  • methods of renal replacement therapy
  • differentiated shock therapy
  • total parenteral nutrition and insulin therapy
  • replacement of blood cells and particles

Has any progress been made in treating sepsis?

Only little progress has been made. Researchers worldwide are looking for new medications, which act directly on the immune response.

Who can help me with further questions?

The German Sepsis Aid helps you with further questions. It is a sepsis-related support group which derived from an initiative supported by the German Sepsis Society. The inaugural meeting was held on the occasion of the 3rd International Congress of GSS on 05 September 2007.

Please feel free to contact the German Sepsis Aid.
(+49) 0700 - SEPSIS - 00
(+49) 0700 - 737747 - 00

Email: info(at)