What is sepsis, who is at risk and how can it be treated?

<span>MP Craig Mackinlay was admitted to hospital in September after being diagnosed with septic shock.</span><span>Photograph: Jordan Pettitt/PA</span>
MP Craig Mackinlay was admitted to hospital in September after being diagnosed with septic shock.Photograph: Jordan Pettitt/PA

The Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay has revealed that his hands and feet have been amputated after a sepsis diagnosis.

Last September, the MP was admitted to hospital with septic shock, which resulted in kidney and liver failure, as well as blood clots that made his limbs turn black.

Here is a Q&A on the main points to know about the condition.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a condition caused when your immune system overreacts to an infection in your body and begins to attack your organs and tissues. It can lead to septic shock, which happens when a severe case of sepsis causes your blood pressure to drop to dangerously low levels, which can result in organ failure.

Among the most common infections that can lead to sepsis are abdominal and chest infections.

Across the UK, sepsis affects more than 245,000 people every year, and there are 48,000 deaths due to sepsis-related illnesses. Worldwide, sepsis and sepsis-related conditions cause an estimated 8m deaths a year.

Of those who survive sepsis, about 40% develop potentially life-changing challenges to their physical or mental health, such as limb amputation.

What are the symptoms ?

The symptoms of sepsis can be difficult to spot and can lead to misdiagnosis as its onset can often be rapid. Symptoms include loss of breath, diarrhoea, intense muscle pain, shivering, loss of breath, high fever, fainting and vomiting.

In babies and young children, the symptoms of sepsis include blue, grey, pale or blotchy skin, a rash that does not fade when you roll a glass over it, difficulty breathing, unusual high-pitched cries and being sleepier than normal.

The symptoms of septic shock, which happens when sepsis remains untreated, includenot being able to stand up, extreme confusion and strong sleepiness.

Why can sepsis lead to limb amputation?

When sepsis occurs as a result of your body’s immune system overreacting to an infection, it can lead to blood clots, which reduce the supply of oxygen to the body’s organs and tissues.

Related: Tory MP Craig Mackinlay reveals his hands and feet have been amputated due to sepsis

This causes gangrene, which is when the tissue is starved of oxygen and begins to die. Amputation can become necessary to stop more of the body’s tissue dying and so to prevent death.

Why can sepsis be misdiagnosed easily?

The early symptoms of sepsis, which include high fever, vomiting and fainting, are shared with several other health conditions and as a result can be missed by healthcare professionals.

Some other conditions with similar symptoms to sepsis include anaemia, heart failure and spinal cord injuries.

Sepsis can also be especially difficult to spot in babies and young children, people with dementia, people with a learning disability and people who have difficulties communicating.

Martha’s rule, which gives the right for families to ask for a second opinion from different medics in the same hospital, was introduced after 13-year-old Martha Mills died in 2021 after developing sepsis which was not identified quickly enough.

Who is at risk of sepsis?

Although anyone is at risk of developing sepsis, some people are more likely to be at risk than others. These include babies under one and people over 75, people with diabetes, a weakened immune system, a genetic disorder or those who have recently had surgery.

Women who have just given birth or have had a miscarriage or an abortion are more likely to be at risk, too.

How can sepsis be prevented?

The risk of sepsis developing can be prevented by keeping open wounds clean, taking antibiotics correctly, if prescribed, and washing hands regularly.

It is important not to ignore the symptoms of sepsis even if they may at first appear to be another condition.

What is the treatment for sepsis?

When arriving at hospital with suspected sepsis, a person should be given antibiotics within one hour. This is important in preventing sepsis from developing into septic shock.

If sepsis does turn into septic shock, other treatment may be needed, such as being put on a ventilator and surgery to remove the areas of infection.

On recovery, it may still be possible to have the physical and emotional symptoms of sepsis. This is known as post-sepsis syndrome and can include fatigue, lack of appetite and becoming ill more often.