Treating septic shock

Sepsis and septic shock are medical emergencies and must be treated immediately.

If you have sepsis, it’s likely that you will be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) for urgent treatment and to carefully monitor your progress. You may be connected to various tubes and machines that measure:

  • your blood pressure
  • how much urine you produce
  • how much oxygen is in your blood

Oxygen therapy

To help you breathe more easily, you will be given oxygen through one of the following:

  • a face mask
  • a tube inserted into your nose
  • an endotracheal tube (ETT) that is inserted into your mouth

If you have severe shortness of breath, a mechanical ventilator may be used.

Increasing blood flow

If you have septic shock, you will probably be given fluids directly into a vein. This will help increase your blood pressure by increasing the amount of fluid in your blood.

To increase the blood flow to your vital organs, such as your brain, liver, kidneys and heart, you may be prescribed:

  • inotropic medicines
  • vasopressors

Inotropic medicines 

Inotropic medicines (inotropes), such as dobutamine, stimulate your heart. They increase the strength of your heartbeat, which helps get oxygen-rich blood to your tissues and organs where it is needed.


Vasopressors include:

  • dopamine
  • adrenaline
  • noradrenaline

These medicines will cause your blood vessels to narrow, increasing your blood pressure and the flow of blood around your body. This will allow your vital organs to start functioning properly.


Antibiotics are often used to treat sepsis and septic shock as these are usually caused by a bacterial infection.

The type of antibiotic that will be effective in treating the infection will depend on the type of bacterial infection and where in the body the infection started.

To increase your chances of survival, you may be started on antibiotics before the results of these tests are known. Initially, two or three types of antibiotics may be used. Once the results are known and the bacteria responsible for the infection have been identified, the most effective type of antibiotic can be used.


In severe cases of sepsis or septic shock, the large decrease in blood pressure and blood flow can cause organ tissue to die. If this happens, surgery may be required to remove the dead tissue.

You may also need surgery to remove the cause of your infection, for example:

  • draining a collection of pus (an abscess)
  • removing infected tissue
  • removing a medical device, such as a heart valve
Antibiotics are medicines that can be used to treat infections caused by micro-organisms, usually bacteria or fungi. Examples include amoxicillin, streptomycin and erythromycin.
Bacteria are tiny, single-celled organisms that live in the body. Some can cause illness and disease and some others are good for you.
Blood supplies oxygen to the body and removes carbon dioxide. It is pumped around the body by the heart.
Shock is a short-term state of body weakness that usually happens after an accident of injury, caused when there is an insufficient supply or oxygen.

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