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What is the Connection Between Pneumonia and Sepsis?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Pneumonia and sepsis are interrelated because severe cases of pneumonia can eventually lead to sepsis if not properly treated. This is generally true of bacterial causes of pneumonia. Sepsis is a severe infection within the bloodstream, also called a blood infection or blood poisoning, and it can be deadly if not caught and treated promptly.

Both pneumonia and sepsis are caused by a bacterial infection, although pneumonia can have more than one cause. Sometimes an infection that starts in the lungs, as is the case with bacterial pneumonia, can eventually migrate into the bloodstream. Sepsis occurs when there are high numbers of bacteria present in the blood. There are three stages of sepsis progression, with third being septic shock, which is life threatening.

The early stages of sepsis may have few symptoms, but it can eventually cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and fever. Pneumonia can cause trouble breathing, wheezing, coughing, and excess mucus production. Septic shock usually causes a severe drop in blood pressure along with all other symptoms. When both conditions are present together, especially in their later stages, death rates are much higher than for either condition alone.

Patients who have been diagnosed with pneumonia and sepsis are usually treated with high levels of intravenous antibiotics. Fluids may also be given to help reduce the risk of dehydration, and some patients may also need oxygen or a ventilator to help with breathing if pneumonia is severe. Each condition alone is life-threatening, so patients with both are especially vulnerable to serious complications.

Those who are most at risk of long lasting problems due to pneumonia and sepsis are the elderly, those with compromised immune function, those with underlying conditions of the heart or lungs, and young infants or very small children. Sepsis as a complication of another infection, including pneumonia, is most common in hospitals or in those who do not seek medical treatment in the early stages of illness. Those who have been hospitalized for a long period of time are also at risk, with or without the presence of pneumonia.

Prevention is the best step in avoiding complications due to both pneumonia and sepsis. Patients should see a doctor at the first sign of illness so that proper diagnosis and treatment can begin. Sometimes severely ill patients in the intensive care unit are given antibiotics in order to prevent infection or at the earliest signs of infection to prevent sepsis. Other methods of prevention include frequent hand washing, eating a healthy diet, and getting the pneumonia vaccine.

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Discussion Comments
By clintflint — On Jan 18, 2013

Unfortunately, it feels like if you get pneumonia once it's easier to get it again. I've never been a particularly healthy person in general, but it seems like I get pneumonia every couple of years. I've been lucky to avoid sepsis though, probably because I recognize the symptoms of pneumonia and go and get treated for it before anything else happens.

I just hope I don't ever get immune to the drugs they give you to treat the infection. I've heard that can happen.

By irontoenail — On Jan 18, 2013

@Ana234 - Also it's just irresponsible to not get your health checked if you've had some kind of flu or cold for more than a few days. You could be infecting everyone around you, because, until you get put on antibiotics, a bacterial infection is really contagious.

If you get put on antibiotics, even if it's a virus that's making you feel bad, it will guard against getting pneumonia and a subsequent sepsis infection.

By Ana1234 — On Jan 17, 2013

You also have to guard carefully against getting pneumonia if you've been a smoker or if you are still smoking. My sister gets it all the time, because she's a heavy smoker, even though she's young and relatively healthy.

It's surprisingly easy to dismiss the initial symptoms of pneumonia as well, because you get used to having a bad cough when you're a smoker and people tend to think if you've got pneumonia you must feel like you're near death.

If you've had a cough go on for a long time and you've got a fever you really should go and get treated, because if it does turn to sepsis it can move quickly.

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