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Septic Shock

  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:


Septic Shock


Septic shock is when blood pressure drops very low after an infection. The infection first leads to a reaction called sepsis. Sepsis impairs blood flow. If it worsens, blood pressure drops. Organs cannot get enough oxygen and nutrients. If blood pressure cannot be restored, septic shock happens. Septic shock may result in multiple organ failure and death.


Septic shock is caused by an infection that overwhelms the body. Sepsis can be triggered by many kinds of infections, including:

  • Bacterial—most common
  • Fungal infections
  • Viral
  • Parasitic
The Cardiovascular System.

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Risk Factors

Septic shock is more common in infants and in people over 50 years old. Other things that raise the risk are:

  • A weak immune system
  • Not having a spleen
  • Cancer
  • Low white blood cell counts
  • Long term diseases
  • Previous surgery


Septic shock may cause:

  • Fever or low body temperature
  • Chills
  • Fast, pounding heartbeat
  • Fast breathing or problems breathing
  • Confusion and reduced alertness
  • Problems with urination (peeing)
  • Severe bleeding— disseminated intravascular coagulation

Septic shock may also cause symptoms of:


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • A swab of tissue—to test for infection
  • ECG—to check heart rhythm
  • Imaging tests—to look for sources of infection, such as pneumonia


Sepsis and septic shock need care right away. The goal is to restore blood flow and oxygen to tissues and regain organ function. Treatment requires hospitalization and may include:

  • IV fluids and oxygen
  • Antibiotics or antifungal medicines—to treat infection
  • Medicines to increase blood pressure and blood flow
  • Corticosteroids—to reduce inflammation
  • A mechanical ventilator—to help with breathing, if the lungs fail
  • Surgery—to remove dead tissue or drain infections

Other supportive therapies may also be used.


Most cases of septic shock cannot be prevented. Treating infections right away may help.





  • Evans L, Rhodes A, at al. Surviving sepsis campaign: international guidelines for management of sepsis and septic shock 2021. Crit Care Med. 2021;49(11):e1063-e1143.
  • Sepsis and septic shock. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/critical-care-medicine/sepsis-and-septic-shock/sepsis-and-septic-shock.
  • Sepsis in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/sepsis-in-adults.
  • Sepsis. National Institute of General Medical Sciences website. Available at: https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/sepsis.aspx.
  • Sepsis treatment in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/sepsis-treatment-in-adults.


  • Mark D. Arredondo, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.