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  • Writer's pictureManoj Teltumbade

Sepsis: Cause, Symptoms, Impact, Prevention and Early Detection

Updated: Apr 29

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a life-threatening organ dysfunction due to a dysregulated host response to infection. In simple words, when the body is fighting against a severe infection, some organs may function abnormally. This improper functioning of organs is called sepsis.

In severe conditions, sepsis may progress into septic shock, which occurs in response to an inciting agent, that causes both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory immune system activation. This may lead to severe organ problems or death.

Global impact of sepsis

According to WHO, sepsis is a syndromic response to infection. Sepsis causes or contributes to up to half of all in-hospital deaths in the USA. The total approximate medical expenses over a year for acute care for sepsis, in the USA, is over $62 billion. This does not include doctor bills or outpatient care after discharge. This number also doesn’t include economic losses suffered by the patient and caregivers.

Globally, the population incidence of hospital-treated sepsis in adults is estimated as 270 per 100,000, with overall mortality estimated at 26%. Sepsis results in around 19.4 million cases and 5.3 million deaths globally each year. Annually, the rate of sepsis is rising by almost 9%. Overall mortality from sepsis syndromes can vary from 30% to 50% depending on demographic factors such as age, race, sex, co-morbid conditions, and the presence of organ dysfunction. For example, in-patient mortality was predicted most by number and degree of organ injury with the strongest predictors being a respiratory, cardiovascular, hepatic, and neurologic failure. Based on an estimation of a scientific publication, in 2017 there were 48.9 million cases and 11 million sepsis-related deaths worldwide, which accounted for almost 20% of all global deaths. In 2017, almost half of all global sepsis cases occurred among children, with an estimated 20 million cases and 2.9 million global deaths in children under five years of age.

What is sepsis. Global impact of sepsis

What causes sepsis?

In 2017, the largest contributors to sepsis cases and sepsis-related mortality across all ages were diarrhoeal diseases (9.2 to 15 million annual cases) and lower respiratory infections (1.8-2.8 million annually). However, non-communicable diseases are on the rise; one-third of sepsis cases and nearly half of all sepsis-related deaths in 2017 were due to an underlying injury or chronic disease. Maternal disorders were the most common non-communicable disease complicated by sepsis. Among children, the most common causes of sepsis-related deaths were neonatal disorders, lower respiratory infections, and diarrhoeal diseases.

Symptoms of sepsis

As sepsis can occur in different body parts, it can have diverse symptoms. The most common symptoms are rapid breathing and confusion. Apart from these other common symptoms are:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Diarrhea, Fast heartbeat

  • High-fever or very low body temperature

  • Extreme pain

  • Weakness

  • Discolored skin

Who is at risk for sepsis?

Anyone affected by an infection, severe injury, or serious non-communicable disease can progress to sepsis but vulnerable populations are at higher risk including people at:

  • Older age

  • Pregnant women

  • Neonates

  • Patients in the intensive care unit


  • Liver Cirrhosis

  • Cancer

  • Kidney Disease

  • Auto-Immune Diseases

Is sepsis preventable?

Yes, most sepsis deaths could be prevented with appropriate preventive measures, early detection, and timely treatment. The WHO estimates that elaborate infection prevention and control programs can reduce the risk of sepsis infection by as much as 30%

Prevention of infection in the community involves using effective hygiene practices, such as hand washing, and safe preparation of food, improving sanitation and water quality and availability, providing access to vaccines, particularly for those at high risk, as well as appropriate nutrition, including breastfeeding for newborns.

Prevention of infection in health care facilities mainly relies on having functioning infection prevention and control (IPC) programs and teams, effective hygiene practices and precautions, including hand hygiene, along with a clean, well-functioning environment and equipment.

Prevention of the evolution to sepsis in both community and health care facilities requires the appropriate antibiotic treatment of infection, including reassessment for optimization, prompt seeking of medical care, and early detection of the signs and symptoms of sepsis.

Early Detection of Sepsis

Sepsis is a syndrome without a criterion standard diagnostic test and the challenges associated with defining it has made it difficult to quantify the associated morbidity and mortality. Traditional scoring systems do not do justice to accurate and early sepsis detection. Hence many researchers are considering machine learning to accurately predict sepsis. There is evidence suggesting that machine learning algorithms outperform traditional alternatives in contexts in which data inputs are abundant and where there is a high potential for complex variable interactions.

CognitiveCare's AI platform is one such solution that is built on the algorithms of machine learning and artificial intelligence to detect disease early. CognitiveCare's MIHIC™ is the world's first AI platform to detect and quantify 48 Maternal, Fetal and Infant health risks including sepsis.

For more info on what MIHIC is and how our algorithms work, click here to request a demo.

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