Sepsis (Blood Infection): Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Treatment & More

Written By: Dr. Ahmed Abdelhameed

Dr. Ahmed Mohamed Abdelhameed is an internal medicine specialist at Medcare, qualified with an MD in Internal Medicine from Assiut University, Egypt. 

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What is Blood Infection?

Disease-causing organisms are usually kept at bay by barriers such as skin & your body’s immune system. However, in certain cases, infection can’t be contained & makes its way into your circulatory system. This blood infection is known as sepsis. 

Blood infection causes widespread effects owing to the body’s extensive vascular system. The immune system responds by releasing an unusually large amount of chemicals that affect the whole body. This makes it especially important that blood infection treatment is timely & effective.

Signs & Symptoms of Blood Infection

Signs of blood infection include a wide range of manifestations that may be easy to confuse for a non-threatening infection. You may experience:

  • Breathlessness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Fever
  • Muscle pain
  • Less than usual urination
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Rashes or discolouration of the skin, especially the lips or tongue

Symptoms of Blood Infection in Children

Blood infection can have detrimental effects on infants since their immune system is still in the process of developing. Your baby might be irritable & exhibit the following signs of blood infection:

  • Difficulty in suckling, or reduced feeding
  • Trouble going to sleep or waking up
  • Blue or pale skin, lips or tongue
  • Persistent rashes
  • Low or high temperature
  • Abnormal breathing & heartbeat
  • Abnormal crying sound
  • Lack of response

Older children can also be susceptible to blood infection given their activity levels, which makes them more prone to wounds & infections. Older child symptoms may be similar to adult symptoms.

When to Visit a Doctor for Blood Infection

If you or your child have had a previous infection that was untreated or an infection that doesn’t seem to subside despite the usual course of treatment along with signs of blood infection, you should visit a doctor immediately. 

Causes of Blood Infection

Bacterial infection is the most frequent cause of blood infection. However, fungal & viral infections can also result in the same signs. A breach in the body’s protective mechanisms allows organisms to spread around the body, spreading toxic substances which are responsible for the diverse symptoms of blood infection. 

The causative agent may be introduced through:

  • A wound that hasn’t been tended to properly
  • The use of a catheter or breathing tube
  • Poor hygiene

Blood infections commonly begin in:

  • Lungs
  • Bones (Osteomyelitis)
  • Gastrointestinal Tract
  • Urinary Tract
  • Skin

Stages of Blood Infection

Without blood infection treatment, a patient’s condition worsens. Blood infection can progress through the following stages:

  • Mild sepsis
  • Severe sepsis
  • Septic shock

From its onset, the signs of blood infection vary with each stage of the condition.

Mild Sepsis

Mild sepsis is the initial stage of blood infection. The symptoms experienced at this stage are mostly fever, weakness, increased heart rate & respiration. Patients experiencing these signs of blood infection require blood infection treatment at this stage to increase the chances of survival without severe complications.

Severe Sepsis

Since the mild sepsis stage may be overlooked, blood infection might progress to the second stage, which is known as severe sepsis, before it is treated medically. This stage is characterized by decreased blood supply to organs, usually due to clotting, as well as a drop in blood pressure. The signs of blood infection in severe sepsis can include breathing difficulty, abdominal pain, diarrhea, decreased urine production, & increased heart rate.

Septic Shock

Without blood infection treatment, blood infection progresses to its most critical stage. Septic shock is marked by life threateningly low blood pressure. 

Initially the body’s neural & hormonal systems may temporarily maintain the blood pressure, which may manifest through a decrease in urine output & increased heart rate. Eventually, the decreased blood pressure severely affects the delivery of oxygen & other requirements. This results in increased levels of lactic acid as the cells try to function without adequate oxygen. Blood glucose levels may also be elevated in such severe blood infection due to the release of stress hormones.

As a result, blood infection causes multi-organ dysfunction. Even though emergency treatment may prove successful in certain cases, a high mortality rate is associated with septic shock.

Risk factors for Blood Infection

Normally infections are self-limiting or require basic treatment. However, certain individuals may be at greater risk of progressive blood infection with concerning signs & complications. Blood infections are a problem for:

  • Aged individuals
  • Premature infants or infants aged 3 months or younger
  • Individuals with HIV
  • Individuals using immunosuppressants to avoid tissue rejection after transplants or for autoimmune diseases
  • Individuals with chronic diseases such as diabetes
  • Pregnant women
  • Frequent antibiotic users
  • Hospitalized patients in the ICU or those using catheters or breathing tubes

Complications of Blood Infection

Signs of blood infection may progress into the following complications if the response to blood infection treatment is unsatisfactory:

  • Kidney failure
  • Cardiogenic shock or heart failure
  • Liver failure
  • Brain damage
  • Gangrene

Treatment of Blood Infection

Mild blood infection may be treated using antibiotics & IV fluids.In more progressive cases, blood infection treatment involves the following medication in addition to antibiotics:

  • Vasopressors to maintain blood pressure
  • Glucocorticoids to limit inflammation
  • Insulin to manage blood glucose
  • Painkillers

Since organ damage is a common sign of severe blood infection, supportive measures may be required. These may include:

  • Dialysis for kidney failure
  • Respiratory devices to maintain oxygen levels 

Surgery may be necessary to remove excessively damaged tissue or gangrenous parts of the body.

Home Remedies for Blood Infection

Even though home remedies may not be enough to cure blood infection, the use of certain foods can prove helpful in boosting your immune system:

  • Vitamin C helps enhance your immune system & is found in abundance in citrus fruits
  • Turmeric is a well-known anti-inflammatory & anti-bacterial agent that can be applied externally to irritated areas or taken as a drink
  • Herbs such as lobelia & slippery elm can be applied as a paste to heal wounds
  • Garlic, ginger, honey, clove & oregano are also known for their antibacterial properties

However, seeking blood infection treatment from an expert is still advised.

Prevention of Blood Infection

Blood infection, even though worrisome, can be prevented quite easily. Simple yet effective habits that can save you from serious signs of blood infection include:

  • Eating healthy
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Regular hand washing
  • Completing treatment courses for mild infections
  • Keeping wounds clean
  • Following your doctor’s advice on managing your overall health
  • Staying up-to-date with your vaccinations to prevent infections

For more information on the causes, signs, symptoms & treatment of sepsis, get in touch with us. 

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