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Blood poisoning is a serious infection. It occurs when bacteria are in the bloodstream.

Despite its name, the infection has nothing to do with poison. Although not a medical term, “blood poisoning” is used to describe bacteremia, septicemia, or sepsis.

Sepsis is a serious condition in which the body responds improperly to an infection. The infection-fighting processes turn on the body, causing the organs to work poorly.

Sepsis may progress to septic shock. This is a dramatic drop in blood pressure that can damage the lungs, kidneys, liver and other organs. When the damage is severe, it can lead to death.

Early treatment of sepsis improves chances for survival.

What causes blood poisoning?

Blood poisoning occurs when bacteria causing infection in another part of your body enter your bloodstream. The presence of bacteria in the blood is referred to as bacteremia or septicemia. The terms “septicemia” and “sepsis” are often used interchangeably, though technically they aren’t quite the same. Septicemia, the state of having bacteria in your blood, can lead to sepsis. Sepsis is a severe and often life-threatening state of infection if it’s left untreated. But any type of infection — whether bacterial, fungal, or viral — can cause sepsis. And these infectious agents don’t necessarily need to be in a person’s bloodstream to bring about sepsis.

Such infections most commonly occur in the lungs, abdomen, and urinary tract. Sepsis happens more often in people who are hospitalized, where the risk of infection is already higher.

Because blood poisoning occurs when bacteria enter your bloodstream in conjunction with another infection, you won’t develop sepsis without having an infection first.

Some common causes of infections that can cause sepsis include:

What are the three stages of sepsis?

Healthcare providers used to organize sepsis into three stages: sepsis, severe sepsis and septic shock. Now, they identify the condition on a more fluid scale. This scale ranges from infection and bacteremia (bacteria in your bloodstream) to sepsis and septic shock, which can lead to dysfunction of multiple organs and even death.

Who does sepsis affect?

Sepsis can affect anyone, but people with any kind of infection, especially bacteremia, are at a particularly high risk.

Other people who are at a high risk include:

How common is sepsis?

More than 1.7 million people in the United States receive a diagnosis of sepsis each year. There are differences in sepsis rates among different demographic groups. Sepsis is more common among older adults, with incidence increasing with each year after the age of 65 years old.


What are the symptoms of sepsis?

Sepsis can affect many different areas of your body, so there are many possible symptoms.

If an infection such as blood poisoning (septicemia) triggered your condition, you may develop a sepsis rash on your skin. The rash makes your skin appear red and discolored. You may see small, dark-red spots on your skin.

Other common sepsis symptoms include:

What causes sepsis?

Bacterial infections are one of the most common causes of sepsis. Fungal, parasitic and viral infections are also potential sepsis causes. You can get sepsis when an infection triggers a chain reaction throughout your body causing organ dysfunction.

The infection leading to sepsis can start in many different parts of the body. Common sites and types of infections that can lead to sepsis include:

Respiratory system

Urinary tract system

Gastrointestinal system

Central nervous system


Is sepsis contagious?

Sepsis itself isn’t contagious — you can’t spread it to other people. But you can spread the infections that can cause sepsis.

How do you treat sepsis?

Sepsis treatment needs to begin immediately. The most important concern in sepsis protocol is a quick diagnosis and prompt treatment.

If your provider diagnoses you with sepsis, they’ll usually place you in the intensive care unit (ICU) of the hospital for special treatment. You may receive the following treatment for sepsis:

How can I help prevent sepsis?

Steps you can take to prevent sepsis include:

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