The 3 Stages of Sepsis: Symptoms, Treatment, & Prognosis June 28, 2024.

The 3 Stages of Sepsis: Symptoms, Treatment, & Prognosis

Sepsis is the immune system's extreme and toxic response to an infection. When individuals contract infections, their immune system “fights back” by causing inflammation. The inflammation protects the blood and tissue.

What Is Sepsis?

When individuals develop sepsis, the white blood cells kill off healthy tissue. This triggers inflammation to spread to different parts of the body. Untreated sepsis can progress into septic shock, which leads to multi-organ failure.

Sepsis affects more than 1.7 million Americans each year, with over 270,000 deaths as a result. Early medical intervention and treatment are crucial to recovering from sepsis.

Who Is The Most at Risk for Sepsis?

Any infection can lead to sepsis. Common diseases that can cause this condition include bacterial, fungal, and viral infections. This means that anyone, regardless of age, can get sepsis if they have an infection. But, some groups of people are at a higher risk for developing sepsis.

These groups of people include:

  1. Newborns.
  2. Elderly.
  3. Pregnant women.
  4. Individuals with compromised immune systems.
  5. Individuals with chronic medical conditions.

What Are The 3 Stages of Sepsis?

The 3 stages of sepsis are:

  1. Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome
  2. Severe Sepsis
  3. Septic Shock

Continue reading to learn about the stages of sepsis, its symptoms, treatment options, and the patient's prognosis.

First Stage: Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (SIRS)

In early stages, sepsis can be hard to diagnose, because the symptoms resemble those of other medical conditions. This can cause a delayed diagnosis, which prevents patients from getting life-saving medical care.

Early Signs and Symptoms

Medical providers use the acronym T.I.M.E to assess if the patient “checks” all the boxes for potentially having sepsis.

T.I.M.E stands for:

  1. Temperature: Does the patient have a high or low temperature?
  2. Infection: Does the patient have a known infection?
  3. Mental decline: Is the patient extremely confused or sleepy?
  4. Extremely ill: Is the patient in extreme pain or experiencing shortness of breath?

Other early symptoms include a high or low white blood cell count, severe pain, and shortness of breath.

Initial Treatment

Early medical intervention and treatment of sepsis saves thousands of lives each year. During the first stage of sepsis, it is more easily treated than when it progresses to septic shock.

To prevent the condition from progressing, the patient will receive:

  1. IV fluids to prevent blood pressure from dropping.
  2. Antibiotics for a bacterial infection.
  3. Vasopressor to help raise low blood pressure.
  4. Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.


The prognosis depends on many factors, including how quickly the patients receive treatment and if they have underlying health issues. The mortality rate for the first stage of sepsis is around 1.3%, which is very low compared to the later stages.

Second Stage: Severe Sepsis

If sepsis is not treated early, then it will progress to severe sepsis. This condition has many complications associated with it. Many patients develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which causes fluid to accumulate in the lung’s air sacs. ARDS makes it extremely difficult to breathe.

At this point, the patient's organs will start to dysfunction, causing severe damage. The kidneys are one of the first organs to fail during this stage

Signs and Symptoms

Individuals may experience some of the same symptoms as the first stage of sepsis.

They may also experience different symptoms like:

  1. Weakness
  2. Abnormal heart rate
  3. Chills
  4. Drowsiness
  5. Discolored skin


When a patient has severe sepsis, they need to be treated promptly at the ICU. While there, they will receive IV fluids and antibiotics to prevent the condition from progressing.

The patient will also be given supportive therapies, like ventilation or dialysis, if needed.


With severe sepsis, the mortality rate is around 9.2%. So, with proper and timely treatment, many people can recover from this condition. However, if it is not treated quickly, then it will progress to septic shock.

Third Stage: Septic Shock

Septic shock is the last, and most life-threatening stage of sepsis. At this stage, individuals experience a mental decline, severely low blood pressure, and multi-organ failure. Septic shock can kill in as little as 12-24 hours.


Septic shock causes a severe drop in blood pressure, causing the major organs to fail. Symptoms of septic shock, that differ from mild-moderate sepsis include:

  1. Being unable to stand
  2. Having a hard time staying awake
  3. Difficulty breathing
  4. Extreme confusion
  5. Lightheadedness
  6. Little urine output
  7. Heart palpitations


To treat septic shock, more will need to be done. The patient will be hooked up to an IV and given fluids to increase blood pressure. If the patient is having difficulty breathing, they will be put on a ventilator to ensure they get enough oxygen. Insulin may be given to increase the glucose levels in the blood. Surgeries can also be done to remove the damaged tissue or to remove areas of the infection.


Septic shock is extremely life-threatening. Even with treatment, between 30%-40% of patients who develop septic shock will die. However, several factors affect how fatal septic shock is.

These factors include:

  1. The patient’s age.
  2. If the organs are failing.
  3. How quickly it was treated.
  4. How many organs were affected.

Even if the patient does survive, many other complications can occur after septic shock. Common complications include brain damage, liver failure, kidney failure, heart failure, and gangrene.

Can You Sue For Getting Sepsis?

You may be able to sue if you or a loved one suffered from sepsis. However, just because they developed sepsis does not automatically mean it was medical malpractice.

If the medical providers were negligent, and caused severe injuries or death, then there may be grounds for a medical malpractice claim. There are several ways that sepsis can turn into a medical malpractice lawsuit.

5 reasons why you may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit include:

  1. Failure to timely diagnose
  2. Misdiagnosis
  3. Not performing necessary tests
  4. Unsanitary conditions
  5. Nursing home sepsis

It is always important to have your case reviewed by an experienced medical malpractice attorney. They will review the details to determine if you have a case.

Contact Our Cleveland Medical Malpractice Attorneys

After you or a loved one suffered severe injuries due to negligence, you need someone on your side who knows what to do. That’s where our team comes in

At The Mellino Law Firm, we have 40 years of experience, with hundreds of successful cases under our belts. Our team works diligently, in order to get the best results. We vow to never leave a stone unturned and to put in all of our resources in able to get our clients fair compensation

If you have a potential medical malpractice case, call our Cleveland office at (440) 333-3800, or fill out our contact form, to schedule a free initial consultation.