Definition

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

Causes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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