Blood Poisoning

Blood Poisoning

(Sepsis; Septicemia)


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


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


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


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.


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


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


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Infectious Diseases Society of America


Public Health Agency of Canada


Sepsis in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: . Updated March 20, 2018. Accessed May 18, 2018.
Sepsis in children. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: . Updated March 29, 2018. Accessed May 18, 2018.
Sepsis treatment in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated April 2, 2018. Accessed May 18, 2018.
Sepsis treatment in children. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated April 20, 2018. Accessed May 18, 2018.
10/6/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed... : Holland TL, Arnold C, et al. Clinical management of Staphylococcus aureus bacteremia: a review. JAMA. 2014;312(13):1330-1341.
Last reviewed May 2018 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 5/15/2018

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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