Blood Poisoning

(Sepsis; Septicemia)

Definition

Blood poisoning is a serious, life-threatening infection. It spreads through the bloodstream.

Causes    TOP

Bacteria, viruses, and other germs are in the blood and don’t cause problems. Large numbers can cause the immune system to overreact. This can cause serious health problems such as organ failure.

Infections mainly start in the lungs, belly, or urinary tract.

Toxins Can Spread Through the Bloodstream

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Risk Factors    TOP

The chances of blood poisoning are higher in people who have problems with their immune system. This can happen from:

  • Health problems such as cancer or HIV infection
  • Medicines
  • Medical care
  • Problems with genes

Symptoms    TOP

Early symptoms depend on where the infection started. An infection that gets worse may lead to:

  • Fever
  • Low body temperature—hypothermia
  • Fast breathing or heartbeat
  • Weakness
  • Belly pain—may be with nausea or vomiting
  • Changes in mental status
  • Low urine output
  • Blotchy skin

Diagnosis    TOP

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will have:

  • A physical exam
  • Blood tests and cultures

Your healthcare team will try to find where the infection started. You may need more tests.

Treatment    TOP

Hospital care will start right away. It will focus on the type of infection you have. If you start care right away, you have a better chance of becoming healthy.

Care involves:

  • Antibiotics and fluids
  • Draining the infection site
  • Maintaining your heart, blood pressure, and oxygen supply
  • Dialysis for your kidneys
  • A ventilator to help you breathe
  • Blood transfusions

Prevention    TOP

To lower your chances of blood poisoning, get care for infections right away. Call your doctor if you’re sick not getting better.

RESOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
http://www.cdc.gov
Infectious Diseases Society of America
http://www.idsociety.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Public Health Agency of Canada
https://www.canada.ca

References:

Sepsis in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115805/Sepsis-in-adults. Updated March 20, 2018. Accessed May 18, 2018.
Sepsis in children. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T326289/Sepsis-in-children. Updated March 29, 2018. Accessed May 18, 2018.
Sepsis treatment in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated April 2, 2018. Accessed May 18, 2018.
Sepsis treatment in children. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated April 20, 2018. Accessed May 18, 2018.
10/6/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: Holland TL, Arnold C, et al. Clinical management of Staphylococcus aureus bacteremia: a review. JAMA. 2014;312(13):1330-1341.
Last reviewed May 2018 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 5/15/2018

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