What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a life-threatening medical condition triggered by the body’s extreme response to an infection. Most recent estimates indicate there are over 75,000 cases of sepsis per year in Canada, leading to 18,000 deaths. In this two-minute video, critical care physician Dr. Alison Fox-Robichaud describes sepsis, who is most at risk, and how it can be prevented.



Download a transcript of this video.

Risk factors

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing sepsis. Untreated infections are the primary cause, but any infection puts a person at risk. Infections commonly leading to sepsis include pneumonia, abdominal infections, kidney and urinary tract infections, certain viruses like the flu, and parasites like malaria. 

Other risk factors include:

  • chronic and severe illness (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, dementia)
  • age - the very young and the very old 
  • being immunocompromised or having an impaired immune system 
  • surgery and trauma
  • drug use, especially by injection


The symptoms of sepsis include:

  • fever and/or chills
  • severe pain or discomfort/feeling extremely ill
  • shortness of breath
  • lower blood pressure
  • rapid heart rate and/or rapid breathing
  • altered mental status (e.g., confusion) or sleepiness
  • decreased urination
  • pale or discoloured skin


Sepsis can be prevented by:

  • keeping your vaccinations up-to-date
  • effective handwashing
  • spotting infection early
  • treating the infection

It is important to visit a healthcare provider as soon as you suspect that you or a loved one may have an infection so that it can be treated. Be sure to take antibiotics as prescribed.

Post-sepsis syndrome

Once a person survives sepsis, they may develop post-sepsis syndrome that can result in changes in memory, muscle function, and disability. Recently, it has been learned that people who have had sepsis are also at risk of other diseases, such as heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots.

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Author Details


  1. About sepsis. Canadian Sepsis Foundation. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://www.canadiansepsisfoundation.ca/about-sepsis.
  2. Here’s what you need to know about sepsis – Brighter World. McMaster University. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://brighterworld.mcmaster.ca/articles/heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-sepsis/

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