Septic Shock
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Septic Shock

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Septic shock is a condition in which blood pressure falls dangerously and may occur in patients with serious infections. Organ failure may occur because of inadequate blood flow.


Septic shock is caused by sepsis, which can be triggered by many different kinds of infections, including bacterial, viral, parasitic, or fungal infections.


Lung sepsis infant

An infection of the lungs has spread throughout the body, leading to septic shock.

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Risk Factors

The following factors increase your chances of septic shock. If you have any of these risk factors, tell your doctor:

  • Age: newborns and people over age 50
  • Weakened immune system
  • Low white blood cell counts
  • Chronic diseases
  • Previous surgery


If you experience any of these symptoms do not assume it is because of septic shock. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your physician.

  • Confusion
  • Reduced alertness
  • Irregular blood pressure
  • Chills
  • Fever, which may be followed by a drop in body temperature
  • Warm, flushed skin
  • Rapid, pounding heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Reduced urination
  • Kidney failure
  • Lung failure
  • Heart failure
  • Blood clots


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Tests may include the following:

  • Blood tests to measure white blood cells, oxygen levels, platelet count, lactic acid, and metabolic waste
  • Blood tests and cultures to check for infectious organisms
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)—to check for heart rhythm irregularities


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:

Supportive Measures for Shock

If you have septic shock, you will be admitted to the intensive care unit where you will be given intravenous fluids, drugs to increase blood flow, and extra oxygen. If your lungs fail, you may be put on a mechanical ventilator to help you breathe. Other therapies or supportive measures may be used.


Once the cause of the infection is identified, you will be given high doses of one or more antibiotics.


Surgery may be performed to remove any dead tissue.


Most cases of septic shock cannot be prevented, but treating bacterial and other infections promptly may help.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Society of Critical Care Medicine


BC Health Guide

Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians


Sepsis: what you should know. Society of Critical Care Medicine website. Available at: . Accessed September 26, 2006.

Septic shock. Merck website. Available at: . Accessed September 26 2006.

Last reviewed February 2008 by David Horn, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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