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Healthgrades Editorial Staff

What is septicemia?

Septicemia is a serious and even life-threatening infection of the blood. Usually it is caused by bacterial infection, but fungi and other organisms also cause this widespread infection of the bloodstream. “Bacteremia” is another term that denotes the presence of bacteria in the bloodstream. Symptoms are related to the chemicals produced during the body’s immune response to the massive infection.

Septicemia usually results from of an infection elsewhere in the body that leads to a dangerous buildup of bacteria in the bloodstream. The most common areas of infection that lead to septicemia include the abdomen, lungs, urinary tract, bone (osteomyelitis), central nervous system (meningitis) and heart (endocarditis). Other tissues also may be involved.

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With septicemia, a person’s condition can decline very rapidly. The initial symptoms include accelerated pulse, rapid breathing, chills, and high fevers that come on suddenly. These may lead to shock and a sudden decrease in blood pressure, and confusion or other mental changes. Red spots may occur on the skin as a result of clotting problems in the blood.

Treatment of septicemia requires hospitalization, where intravenous fluids and antibiotics will be given, along with supplemental oxygen and other medications.

Septicemia is a serious medical condition that can be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such an accelerated pulse (tachycardia), rapid breathing, chills, shock, sudden high fevers, sudden decrease in blood pressure, low body temperature (hypothermia), or confusion or other changes in mental status. In the elderly, change in mental status may be the only early sign of sepsis. In children, tachycardia and rapid breathing occur early while low blood pressure and low body temperature occur later.