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Long-Term Effects of Sepsis

By Emily Lockhart

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Gerald Morris

Sepsis is a scary topic, particularly for people being treated in a hospital or long-term care facility. If you’re not familiar with sepsis, it’s the body’s response to a serious infection. It generally occurs when an infection affecting one part of the body, such as the lungs, stomach, skin, or urinary tract, spreads throughout the body (typically via the bloodstream).

If not treated immediately and properly, sepsis can cause the patient to experience organ failure, tissue decay, and it can even be fatal. Although sepsis is rarely lethal, it can leave a patient in serious condition for days or weeks and is often followed by a long recovery period. How long that recovery period is, tends to depend on the nature of the infection, the organs affected, and how quickly the problem is addressed. So, what are some of the lasting effects of sepsis?

Difficulty Moving

Sepsis typically has a dramatic impact on the body. It can leave a patient bedridden for days or even weeks. This can lead to the degradation of muscle function, leaving the patient in a situation where they need to take anything and everything slowly (even getting out of bed).

As a result, recovery can be long and difficult and may require the patient receive ongoing support in carrying out even basic activities, from washing themselves to using the washroom and preparing meals. Physical therapy and extensive periods of rest may be required to help the patient rebuild their strength and steadily return to normal life.

Trouble Sleeping

Patients who have experienced sepsis have been very, very sick. To return to normal life, they need lots of time to rest. The result can see patients sleeping or just laying down for much of the day and night, a schedule that can leave them struggling to sleep throughout the night. This can cause them to feel out of sync with the people in their lives, such as friends, family, and colleagues.

Returning to a more normal sleep schedule can take time. During the first stage of recovery, it’s important the patient get as much rest as possible. As their body starts to recover, patients can then start worrying about limiting their daytime sleep in order to maximize their evening sleep periods.

Weight Loss

Sepsis can leave patients feeling very ill and sick to their stomach, for an extended period of time. As they work to overcome their illness, patients may have a hard time eating full meals and may find themselves struggling to consume even small amounts of food. Additionally, patients with or recovering from sepsis may need to sleep for extended periods of time, during which they won’t be in a position to consume food.

As a result, sepsis patients tend to lose weight. In some cases, it could be a significant percentage of their overall body mass. The amount of weight lost will depend on the patient’s original weight and the extent of their sepsis infection. The key is to ensure that patients continue to eat in order to maintain their strength and forge ahead with recovery.

Difficulty Breathing

If you’ve been sidelined by sepsis and a serious infection, you may find it difficult to complete even routine tasks, such as going to the bathroom and walking across the house. There are essentially two major reasons for this. First, patients with sepsis may have experienced muscle and tissue degradation as a result of their infection. Second, prolonged bedtime, without physical activity, can make it difficult to return to normal movement and functionality.

In the initial stages of recovery (and, perhaps, for weeks or months afterwards), it may be difficult for a patient to complete simple physical tasks without having difficulty breathing. However, as time goes on and the patient’s muscles and tissues begin to rebuild, these tasks will become easier and the feeling of breathlessness should start to pass.


Sepsis typically sets in while a patient is in the hospital or another type of healthcare facility struggling with an infection of the lungs, gut, skin, etc. In effect, it can prolong and seriously deepen existing health problems, leading a patient to spend most of their time in bed and away from many of the activities they used to enjoy (such as seeing friends and family).

The result can be the onset of depression, which is understandable, as many patients who develop sepsis are active members of their homes and communities with a sense of pride in helping to take care of their loved ones. Being restricted to a hospital bed or the home can leave patients with a feeling of hopelessness that may only begin to subside as they fight to return to normal life.

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Struggling with sepsis and a serious infection that threatens to take one’s life is a harrowing experience that is not easily forgotten. For some people, it can represent a traumatic experience that takes months or even years to completely heal, particularly when it comes to the mental impact of an infection. The result can be the emergence of nightmares, in addition to general difficulty sleeping.

These nightmares could make re-establishing a regular sleep schedule particularly difficult. If they persist, it’s important for a patient to reach out to their physician, who can refer them to a sleep expert.

Wanting to be Alone

Some patients recovering from sepsis will feel reluctant to leave the home and return to many of the activities they felt were very important prior to getting sick. This is not necessarily evidence that the patient has grown antisocial or that the disease affected their mental well-being. In fact, it may just be a side effect of having spent a prolonged amount of time in bed recovering from their infection, leaving them somewhat uncomfortable spending time around other people.

As with many of the other items on this list, the key is to show patience and take your time returning to normal activities, such as visiting the grocery store or going back to work. Patients may need to slowly ramp themselves back up to a full day, starting with just a few hours out of the home.

MD, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine

Gerald Morris, MD is a family medicine/internal medicine physician with over 20 years expertise in the medical arena. Dr. Morris has spent time as a clinician, clinical research coordinator/manager, medical writer, and instructor. He is a proponent of patient education as a tool in the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic medical conditions.

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