Blood Poisoning

(Sepsis; Septicemia)

Definition

Blood poisoning, also called septicemia or sepsis, is an illness due to an infection or its toxin spreading through the bloodstream. The presence of bacteria in the blood is called bacteremia. Short bursts of low levels of bacteria in the blood usually do not cause problems.

Causes

Sepsis occurs when large numbers of infectious agents exist in the blood. Infections with viruses, fungi, and parasites may lead to sepsis as well. The body responds by trying to fight the infection. Causes include:
  • An existing infection
  • Contagious diseases
  • A dirty needle used by an IV drug user
Toxins Can Spread Through the Bloodstream
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

This condition is more common in older adults, especially those with frail health. Factors that increase your chance of getting sepsis include:
  • Recent illness or hospital care, especially surgery
  • Poorly working immune system due to:
    • Cancer or chemotherapy to treat cancer
    • Diabetes
    • HIV infection or another immunosuppressive condition, such as an autoimmune disorder or immune deficiency
    • Immunosuppressive medications needed after a transplant
  • Medical treatment with an invasive device
  • IV drug abuse
  • Crowded living conditions as in the case of some types of pneumonia and meningitis

Symptoms

The first symptoms depend on the site of the infection.As the condition progresses to sepsis, symptoms may include:
  • Fever and chills
  • Low temperature
  • Pale skin color
  • Weakness
  • Changes in mental status
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Decreased urine
  • Problems with bleeding or clotting

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