Blood poisoning

Synonyms: Sepsis, Septicemia, Bacteremia with sepsis

Medical Specialties: Emergency medicine, Family practice, Internal medicine

Clinical Definition

Blood poisoning, known medically as septicemia, is a condition that occurs when disease-causing organisms are living in the bloodstream, often having travelled from an infection elsewhere in the body, such as the lungs, abdomen or urinary tract. Chills and high fever are often early symptoms. Blood poisoning is serious and potentially life-threatening and requires hospitalization, often in the intensive care unit (ICU).

In Our Own Words

Blood poisoning, or septicemia, occurs when bacteria are present in the bloodstream, often from an infection that started somewhere else in the body. Many kinds of bacteria produce toxins that “poison” the blood, and in any case, septicemia is already a serious, potentially life-threatening condition that can worsen very quickly.


Early on, chills and high fever are common when affected by blood poisoning, and breathing can become rapid. The heart rate may quicken. In some cases, blood pressure drops significantly, and organ damage occurs. Immediate medical attention, including aggressive treatment, increases the chances of survival. Treatments may include antibiotics, fluids and intravenous medicines, among other options.

Relevant Conditions
  • Septic shock
  • Complications from in-dwelling catheters
  • Compromised immune system
Side Effects
  • Chills
  • High fever
  • Rapid breathing and heart rate
  • Confusion
  • Red spots on skin
Share this article
  • Harvard Health Publications. "Medical Dictionary of Health Terms." Accessed August 2013.
  • University of Maryland Medical Center. "Septicemia." Updated May 2013. Accessed August 2013.
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