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What are the Symptoms of Early Sepsis?

By Bethany Keene
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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It is important to recognize the signs of early sepsis and immediately seek treatment because the infection can spread rapidly -- often in a matter of hours. Sepsis occurs when an infection in the body enters the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body; this can lead to septic shock, a potentially fatal condition. Some of the earliest signs of sepsis include a high fever, a feeling of fatigue, an increased heart rate, rapid breathing or breathing difficulty. Experts generally look for at least two symptoms to suspect and diagnose sepsis. A diagnosed infection is also one of these symptoms.

If the original source of the infection is on the surface of the body, one of the best indicators of early sepsis is the presence of red streaks coming off the area and moving up the infected limb. Not all infections are superficial however, which is why the other signs of early sepsis are also important to recognize.

Infections will often present a fever that steadily increases. As the fever increases, muscle pain and weakness may become present, and some people may experience pain in the joints as well. This fever may also cause chills, and some people notice that they become dizzy and shaky, both due to the fever and a corresponding drop in blood pressure.

Accompanied by the chills and fever, the signs of early sepsis also often include a rapid heartbeat and quick breathing. People may find that they cannot slow the breathing or the heart rate down no matter how much they try to relax and take deep breaths. These symptoms will also worsen as the infection progresses through the body. The signs of early sepsis typically only last for a little while; if they are not addressed with emergency treatment with antibiotics, other, more serious symptoms will quickly become apparent.

Some individuals will develop a rash on the skin in addition to the red streaks. This rash can show up anywhere on the body. In addition, urine output will generally decrease significantly, which is a symptom that the organs are slowing function, which is extremely dangerous. Mental state may change as well; some people become confused and agitated. Do not attempt to wait and see if these early symptoms of sepsis get better. It is important to receive emergency treatment as soon as possible. This is another reason to be certain to care for any injuries or infections in the body, to clean cuts and scrapes well, and to take an entire course of antibiotics when prescribed, to be sure all infections are killed before they can spread.

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Discussion Comments

By literally45 — On May 19, 2015

Sepsis can also be present without a high temperature.

By anon989539 — On Mar 11, 2015

I thought I had the flu, so I did what we all do plenty of vitamin C rest and soup. But one day I started to throw up and felt even worse, I got dizzy like I was going to pass out so I went to the ER and that's when I found outi had sepsis. Two days in the hospital, I'll never forget the doctor telling me I was close to death, but the fatigue after you get out is exhausting. I hope what I write here helps others.

By anon344693 — On Aug 11, 2013

My experience of being hospitalized twice for sepsis tells me that early symptoms are so subtle that the proper diagnosis can be missed.

I've had sepsis twice due to a kidney abscess. The first time it took them months to properly diagnose me. When my fever reached 105.5 then I was hospitalized. After a CT scan, I was immediately given IV antibiotics. I was 40 years old at the time.

The second time (age 53), I again had no symptoms until my resting heart rate was 105. I had no fever and no other symptoms. Again I was hospitalized.

Now I believe again I'm septic. My ob/gyn treated me for a bladder infection. As with both times before, after finishing the antibiotics, again I don't feel right. I went to the walk in clinic and informed the doctor of my two previous experiences with kidney infections and sepsis. As in both times before, I was told I "could not have a kidney or blood infection" because I'd have a fever and be very sick. Okay, I'm now lying in bed, with my joints aching, my lower back hurting, difficulty breathing, and generally feeling not well contemplating my next move.

It's frustrating because I don't want to go to the emergency room as I did before, for fear that again I'll be treated like this is all in my head. I have an order for another urinalysis and going to ask the ob/gyn to add a blood test to it. In nine days I have an appointment with the urologist. I'm hoping not only will I still be alive, but that the lab tests will show what's wrong, and I can be treated and be move on.

Why do I keep getting these kidney abscesses that go undiagnosed and go septic? There is a strong family history of undiagnosed kidney problems. Also, I'm fairly certain that I get bladder infections with no symptoms that travel up to the kidneys. Kidney infections left untreated grow abscesses that eventually leak bacteria into the blood stream. I really feel this is what's going on which is why I'm going to a urologist. Why do I keep getting bladder infections?

Whatever the reason I keep getting sepsis, it's starting to happen more frequently and I'm worried about an early death. So don't let doctors tell you there's nothing wrong with you because the typical symptoms aren't present. After I get well this time, I'm going to become proactive and go on the offense learning everything I can. This defense stuff is too risky!

By SarahGen — On Jul 23, 2013

@burcinc-- Sepsis causes temperatures above 100 degrees fahrenheit. Fever during a septic infection will go much higher than other types of infection because the immune system responds in a much bigger way to sepsis. It's the immune system response that causes fever, so it's a sign that the body is dealing with something major.

It also causes inflammation because of the immune system fighting the infection in the blood.

By burcinc — On Jul 23, 2013

@MikeMason-- How high was your fever when you had sepsis?

Fever can be caused by many things and even though I get a fever occasionally, sepsis never comes to my mind.

By stoneMason — On Jul 22, 2013

I had a sepsis infection last year, from a perforated intestinal abscess. Of course I didn't know that this was the cause in the beginning. I thought I had the flu because I developed fever, muscle aches and fatigue. I took fever reducers and when those didn't work, I went to the ER.

I was given IV antibiotics at the ER, which made me feel better and reduced my fever within a few hours. After that, they did blood work and gave me a CT scan. It was the scan that showed the abscess. The next day, I had a minor operation to drain the abscess and continued to receive antibiotics.

I'm so glad I went to the hospital because if I had waited until morning, my sepsis would have been worse and very dangerous at that point.

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