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Blood Poisoning Blood Poisoning
Blood poisoning is the term used by non medical people for a condition known as sepsis. Sepsis is a potentially life threatening condition.... Blood Poisoning

by Kimberly Allen R.N.

Blood poisoning is the term used by non medical people for a condition known as sepsis.  Sepsis is a potentially life threatening condition.  Sepsis occurs when an infection triggers an inflammatory response throughout the body which is called “systemic inflammatory response syndrome” or SIRS.

Blood poisoning causes a darkening of the skin.

Sepsis is the second leading case of death in intensive care patients that are not related to cardiovascular conditions in the US. It is also one of the leading cause of death in intensive care units worldwide.  According to the CDC sepsis is the 10th most common cause of death overall.  Sepsis is more common in the elderly, those that are immunocompromised and patients that are critically ill.  Septic shock accounts for 60% of the mortality rate worldwide.  The mortality rate from sepsis has increase over the past 20 years.    Many experts believe the increase is because there are more people developing sepsis than in the past.  they also believe there are several reasons for the increase in people with sepsis including the significant increase in cancer patients and organ transplant patients that are being treated with very strong medications that weaken the immune system.  These patients receive these medications in order to kill  the cancer cells and prevent rejection of the transplanted organs.  In these patients their white blood cell count is closely monitored and if below a certain level they must remain in the hospital and be monitored very closely for signs of infection.  Not only are the medications that suppress the immune system a problem  but today the use of antibiotics has increased significantly therefore many different strains of bacteria have become resistant to treatment which also makes treating sepsis more difficult.  another factor that many don’t think about is there are more elderly people today and most have a weaker immune system.
Though sepsis is most commonly caused by bacteria it can also be caused by viruses and fungi.  Sepsis usually develops when there is a pre existing infection for example pneumonia 9an infection in the lungs) urinary tract or kidney infections and appendicitis.  Sepsis develops when chemicals that are released into the bloodstream to fight the infection instead trigger a systemic inflammatory response that goes through out the entire body.  Tiny microscopic blood clots form through out the  bloodstream that can block the oxygen and other nutrients from getting to the organs causing organ failure.
People that are in the early stages may or may not have a fever, but most do.  They may also complain of chills and severe shaking.  Most people with sepsis will also have a very fast heartbeat and seem to be almost hyperventilating.  There are certain criteria that a person must meet for a diagnosis of sepsis.  The criteria are known as the SIRS criteria.  To be diagnosed with sepsis you must have at least 2 of the criteria on the SIRS list.
1. A body temperature that is either high, above 101.3F, or low, lower than 96.8F
2. A heart rate that is higher than 90 beats per minute
3. A respiratory rate that is higher than 20 breaths per minute.
4. A white blood cell count that is less than 4,000.
The American College of Chest Physicians and the Society of Critical Care Medicine have defined 3 stages of sepsis.
1. Sepsis is SIRS that develops from a confirmed infection.
2. Severe sepsis is sepsis with organ failure.
3. Septic shock occurs when a patient continues to have a low blood pressure even after receiving aggressive fluid treatment to elevate the blood pressure, they are also usually confused.
Early diagnosis and aggressive treatment can increase your chances of survival.  Sepsis is treated with antibiotics.  The antibiotic treatment is always started immediately whether the infecting organism has been identified or not.  You will be hospitalized and placed on intravenous antibiotics.  When administered intravenously instead of orally the antibiotics reach their target much faster.  You will also be given large doses of fluids intravenously to increase your blood pressure and if needed medications that can also help increase your blood pressure.  Depending on the severity of the sepsis you may require dialysis or even the use of a ventilator temporarily.
The best way to prevent sepsis is be aware of the symptoms and if you are currently being treated for an existing infection notify your Dr if there has been no improvement  with in 3-5 days after starting antibiotic treatment.  Remember early diagnosis is crucial to survival.

Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at