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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Emma Moss

I felt completely fine in the lead up to my diagnosis. Monday night I woke up with a pain that I can’t fully describe but I knew something was wrong and that I needed to go to the hospital. I got up and got dressed but felt too weak to go so I lay back down. After a while I woke my partner, who then brought me to hospital. Once there I did some blood tests and x-rays which came back clear so I was sent home with a high fever and a viral infection. (Sepsis and Viral Infections) The ... Read Full Story

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Katherine Garcia

Severe septic shock survivor 37, wife and mother of 4. A first ever kidney stone became lodged in my ureter on a date weekend with my husband. (Sepsis and Kidney Stones, Sepsis and Septic Shock) I was rushed to the nearby emergency center and had a minor complication during the stent placement. The surgeon notified me that my ureter accidentally suffered a tear in the stent placement and my ureter needed to be cauterized. Almost 3 months after the emergency procedure/removal of the stone, my family and I were vacationing at the beach when I had a sudden onset fever ... Read Full Story

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Bruce Brannon

In October of 2017 I had the flu and visited my primary care physician, I was given medication to take and sent home. Four weeks later, I had not improved, so I visited my doctors office again. (Sepsis and Influenza) I was dehydrated so they gave me an IV with fluid, and given more medication. A few days later I was admitted to the hospital for 3 days, where I received IV antibiotics and fluids and discharged About four weeks later and I still had not improved, so another trip to my doctors office, and was immediately sent to the ... Read Full Story

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Alexa Foutch

I am a 16 time sepsis survivor. 3x septic shock survivor. What started as an asthma attack that put me on a ventilator, and I ended up vomiting which turned into aspiration pneumonia, however, I just kept getting sick after that though. I was septic with COVID and other illnesses. Come to find out I have primary ammagammabulemia. Because of sepsis I had to give up PTA school, am on supplemental oxygen 24/7 due to chronic respiratory failure, and have been on life support 14 times, I struggle every day with the after-effects of sepsis. I have been diagnosed with ... Read Full Story

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Kaitlyn Wilson

On August 14 2021, I came home from a hysterectomy that went wrong. (Sepsis and Surgery) I was found unconscious, low oxygen, fast heartbeat, high blood pressure, and was life flighted. I was diagnosed with pneumonia and septic shock. (Sepsis and Pneumonia, Sepsis and Septic Shock) I was in the hospital for a week on antibiotics, oxygen, and a hematoma, with internal bleeding. I am now just over one year from the incident and have many side effects. I have had multiple surgeries, multiple CAT scans and MRIs to find out what is going on. From possible brain injury, MS, ... Read Full Story

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Blood Poisoning