Blood Infection – Sepsis or Septicemia?

Septicemia is the name we give to blood infection.

Septicemia is a serious bloodstream infection, and if not treated, it leads to sepsis.

Known also as bacteremia, or blood poisoning, septicemia occurs when a bacterial infection elsewhere in the body enters the bloodstream.

The condition is dangerous because the bacteria and the toxins can be carried through the bloodstream to your entire body.

Septicemia can quickly and easily become life-threatening.

That is why it is crucial that you recognize the symptoms, and administer yourself to the hospital immediately.

If left untreated, septicemia always leads to sepsis.

Sepsis is a serious complication of septicemia [1]

Sepsis is when inflammation throughout the body occurs, and it can cause blood clots and block oxygen from reaching vital organs.

The end result is organ failure, which we all know is fatal.

According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 1 million Americans get severe sepsis on a yearly basis [2]

Of those, between 20 and 50% may die from the condition.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the causes of blood infection, symptoms, and what you need to do to react.

What causes blood infection?

Blood infection

Septicemia is caused by an infection in another part of your body [3]

In most cases, the infection is severe.

The exact source of the infection cannot be always determined.

Some of the common infections that lead to blood infection are:

  • Lung infections, for example, pneumonia
  • Kidney infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Infections in the abdominal area

As the bacteria from these infections enter the bloodstream, they multiply rapidly.

People who are in the hospital for another condition, or for surgery, are at even greater risk of developing septicemia.

Secondary infections can occur while in a hospital [4]

Other risk factors for septicemia include: very young or very old age, having severe wounds, having severe burns, have a urinary or intravenous catheter, are on mechanical ventilation, you are receiving medical treatments that weaken your immune system.

What are the symptoms of blood infection?

The symptoms start very quickly.

As the bacteria enter the bloodstream, they multiply, and symptoms occur.

In the early stages of the condition, a person can look very sick [5]

The most common initial symptoms include chills, fever, very fast respiration, and rapid heart rate.

But with that in mind, here are the most common symptoms of blood infection.

  • Skin spots, one of the first signs will manifest as reddish or spotted patches on the extremities
  • Abnormal heart rate is an early sign, as the flow of oxygen to the major organs is impaired
  • The infection also impacts the liver, which results in reduced urination or an urge to urinate. This symptom is more common among elderly individuals
  • When septicemia occurs, your mental state is affected, and it can cause impaired focus. During blood infection, our immune system releases chemicals into the blood to prevent further infection, which deprives the brain of nutrients and oxygen
  • Dizziness is another symptom, similar to impaired focus. You may become confused, disoriented, and unable to think
  • Elevated pulse is one of the first symptoms, and occurs as soon as the immune system is responding to the infection
  • Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms that may mislead you. However, if they are followed by any other symptom of blood infection, it is time to call the ER
  • Fever is always present when there is an infection to the blood. You will experience sudden and unexplained high fever of 38-Celsius or 100-Fahrenheit and more
  • In some advanced cases, your body temperature may plummet and lead to hypothermia, causing chills
  • Due to your elevated pulse and heart rate, you will also see an increase in your breathing. Rapid breathing is considered one of the first signs of a blood infection
  • Diarrhea can occur due to many reasons, but mostly because the digestive system is sensitive to changes or functional disruptions in the body during blood infection
  • Pain and weakness are common, as your body is trying to fight off the infection. You will feel pain all over your body, but in some cases, it is localized in the joints or the wrists
  • Last but not least, low blood pressure is a very serious and severe sign of blood infection. Low blood pressure indicates septic shock, and is considered the most critical stage of sepsis

What happens if you do not react?

Septicemia or blood infection can lead to serious complications.

All of these are fatal if left untreated or if the treatment for the infection is delayed for too long.

Sepsis is a fatal condition that occurs when your body has a strong immune response to the infection.

Sepsis leads to widespread inflammation through the body, and can lead to organ failure if not treated immediately.

If you have a weakened immune system, you are more prone to sepsis.

Septic shock occurs when there is a serious drop in blood pressure.

Toxins released by the bacteria can cause extremely low blood flow, resulting in organ or tissue damage.

Septic shock is an emergency and requires intensive care unit.

You may even need to be put on a breathing machine.

Last, but not least, acute respiratory distress syndrome can happen, and it is a life-threatening condition that prevents oxygen from reaching lungs and blood.

How is blood infection diagnosed?

Diagnosing septicemia and sepsis is challenging for most doctors.

It is hard to find the exact cause of the infection, and diagnosis usually involves a wide range of tests.

First and foremost, the physician will evaluate the symptoms and check your medical history.

Afterward, he will perform a physical examination to check for low blood pressure or body temperature.

Additional tests include urine, respiratory secretions, blood, and wound secretions.

If the signs of an infection are not obvious, CT scan, ultrasound, MRI, or X-ray are in play.

Can you prevent septicemia?

Bacterial infections are the cause of septicemia.

With that in mind, as long as you prevent bacteria from entering your system, you are good.

Those with compromised immune system should consider the following precautions:

  • Avoid smoking
  • Follow a healthy diet
  • Exercise
  • Avoid illegal drugs
  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Stay away from people who are sick

How to treat it?

Treatment depends on the site and cause of the initial infection, as well as the organs infected.

If diagnosed early, septicemia can be treated effectively with antibiotics [6]

In some cases, even with regular treatment, you might end up with permanent organ damage.

Treatment for septicemia includes:

  • Antibiotics if the condition is diagnosed early
  • Taking fluids intravenously
  • Giving oxygen if levels are too low

If the sepsis is severe, and you develop septic shock, you will be transmitted to the intensive care unit.


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