Sepsis and Blood Poisoning

Blood poisoning is a common term sometimes used to describe sepsis – it’s an old term used over generations. A doctor or nurse may say “blood poisoning” because this is a term many people are familiar with. But blood poisoning is not an accurate description of sepsis, and the two terms should not be used interchangeably.

Sepsis is not an infection in and of itself. Sepsis is the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

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

Suggested Citation:
Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Blood Poisoning. 2023.

Updated November 22, 2023.


More About Sepsis


Scientists are working on discovering what exactly happens in sepsis. We know the inflammatory response causes problems such as internal blood clotting too much and too fast. This means that parts of the body don’t get adequate blood flow, and the body’s tissues don’t get 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

These changes cause a person’s organs to stop working in many cases. Some of the signs include:

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

Related Resources

Information Guide

Blood Poisoning

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Betty Lott

It was six years ago in March 2018, at the age of 67, that I went into septic shock. (Sepsis and Septic Shock) I had been having multiple UTIs and going to the walk-in one time, my primary gynecologist, etc. So, I guess no one was really keeping track of the number of episodes. (Sepsis and Urinary Tract Infections) I was at at my granddaughters’ flag football game and was not feeling well. I thought maybe I had a kidney stone or infection but just did not feel well in general. I was in touch with a nurse friend and ... Read Full Story

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Susan H.

The Day I went missing. November 24, 2020 was the last day before Thanksgiving Break from high school. I am a 62 yr. old female, entering my 18th year of teaching special education. I had a history of diverticulosis, my father died when I was 18 of colon cancer. I was consistent with preventive colon care, but had been hospitalized for a night for diverticulitis in 2019. After the infection had cleared, a colonoscopy revealed severe diverticulosis, and gastro doctor advised 11 inches be taken out. My husband and I both met with him and got a second opinion, and ... Read Full Story

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Kelsi Godfrey

Thursday, March 23rd 2023 I gave birth to my fourth son. Everything went well and it was a normal delivery. Friday, March 24 I started experiencing shortness of breath, but all of my vitals were fine. Then on Saturday, March 25 2023 everything went downhill FAST so luckily I was still at the hospital. My heart rate started going up and blood pressure dropping. I was then intubated. By late afternoon/early evening, my doctors found my uterus was infected and determined I had streptococcal toxic shock syndrome that caused severe septic shock. (Sepsis and Pregnancy & Childbirth, Sepsis and Toxic ... Read Full Story

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Dennis S.

After having a colonoscopy due to minor but long term bleeding, they found I had numerous tumors in my descending and transverse sections of my colon. Because they were in 2 of the 3, they said the whole colon had to be removed, the tumors would appear in the ascending portion within a year. Surgery was done, removed the colon, built a Hartman’s pouch and re- attached my intestine. Just 24hrs after surgery, something was wrong. (Sepsis and Surgery) They had placed me in a ICU unit in an induced coma. It took a couple days but found out 1 ... Read Full Story

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Joan Hatton

April is always a difficult month for me as it will be six years in the 27th that my mom succumbed to sepsis. What started out as a three-day hospital admission for RSV and an urinary tract infection that required IV antibiotics turned into a nightmare. Two separate IV antibiotics eventually cured the respiratory and urinary infections, but lead to severe abdominal pain and diarrhea. My concerns to medical staff was not taken seriously and what was supposed to be a home discharge day turned out to admission to the Intensive Care Unit for C-Diff. Delay in diagnosis and treatment ... Read Full Story

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Blood Poisoning