Blood poisoning 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. However, if bacteria levels do not decrease, then sepsis may occur.
Sepsis occurs when large numbers of infectious agents exist in the blood. Infections with viruses, fungi, and parasites may lead to sepsis as well. 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.
Blood poisoning 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. However, if bacteria levels do not decrease, then sepsis may occur.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. If sepsis is suspected, the doctor will try to find the source of the infection.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
- Blood cultures and tests
- Urine cultures and tests
- Sputum cultures
- Stool cultures
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
- CT scan
- MRI scan
It is not always possible to prevent blood poisoning. Avoiding IV drug use decreases your chance of sepsis. Health care professionals must also take steps to stop the spread of these infections. Getting prompt medical care for infections can reduce your risk of sepsis.
Factors that increase your chance of getting sepsis include:
- Recent illness or hospital care, especially surgery
- Frail health due to increased age
Poorly working immune system due to:
to treat cancer
- 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
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
- Changes in mental status
- Rapid breathing/distress
- Increased heart rate/weak pulse
- Decreased urine
- Problems with bleeding or clotting
This condition will need to be treated aggressively. Treatment is aimed at the cause of the initial infection.
Early treatment improves the chance of survival. Life-saving steps may be needed to assist breathing and heart function. People with sepsis usually need to be observed in an intensive care unit.