Blood poisoning is a common term that people use to describe sepsis or infection in the blood, either bacteremia or septicemia. Bacteremia is the presence of bacteria in the blood and septicemia is the presence of any infection, including those caused by a fungus or virus.

Although blood poisoning is a common term for sepsis, it isn’t an accurate description of the disease and the two terms should not be used interchangeably. Sepsis is not an infection in of itself. Sepsis is  the body’s often deadly response to infection or injury. Sepsis kills and disables millions and requires early suspicion and rapid treatment for survival.

Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, and organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly) and/or amputations.

What happens with sepsis?

Scientists are working on discovering what exactly happens in sepsis. It is known that the inflammatory response causes problems such as blood clotting too much and too fast. This means that parts of the body don’t get adequate blood flow and the nutrients they need. The signs and symptoms of sepsis vary widely and can cause organs to fail, requiring life support.

While we still don’t know why our bodies react this way, we know that sepsis can cause:

  • Leakage from the lining blood vessel linings (much like a water hose with holes in it)
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension) with reduced blood flow to vital organs
  • Small clots throughout the body that prevent nutrients from reaching vital organs

In many cases, these changes cause a person’s organs to stop working. Some of the signs that organs are affected include:

  • Heart – low blood pressure, fast pulse
  • Lungs – low oxygen level, problems breathing
  • Kidneys – making very little urine
  • Brain – confusion, coma

Sepsis is a medical emergency. If you have any reason to suspect sepsis, it is essential that you seek medical help immediately. If you are in a hospital and you suspect sepsis, do not hesitate to speak to the health care professionals to discuss your concerns. Time is of the essence. Speak up.

Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.