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What are the Symptoms of Blood Poisoning?

By Debra Durkee
Updated May 17, 2024
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Blood poisoning is a condition in which the bloodstream is contaminated by bacteria. The symptoms of blood poisoning can be deceptive, as they can resemble the flu, with the appearance of a fever, nausea, and other stomach upsets. The individual may have a general feeling of illness along with full body aches, pains, and malaise. The physical symptoms may also cause changes in the personality of the individual.

Many of the symptoms of blood poisoning are not specific to the condition alone, which can make it difficult to diagnose. There may be the development of an extremely high fever alternating with chills. The individual may find his or her heart racing, along with difficulty catching breath. He or she may also have difficulty urinating and not have to go as frequently as usual.

There is often an overall sick look to the person, accompanied by a vague feeling of sickness that the individual is not able to pinpoint. In the most severe cases, there may be signs that blood is leaking into and beneath the skin. In addition to visible symptoms, the bacterial infection will also usually change the number of white blood cells in the body.

As the infection progresses, the symptoms of blood poisoning become worse. The individual will often suffer from a severe drop in blood pressure, which can result in some of the organs being deprived of the oxygen required to keep them functioning at the necessary level. When the brain is deprived of oxygen, it can result in a loss of consciousness or an altered personality.

Bacteria usually enter the blood through some other type of wound or illness. When these symptoms of blood poisoning coexist with an illness such as pneumonia, it can be a sign that there is something else wrong. Another common way for bacteria to enter into the blood is through a recent incision from surgery or from dental work. There will usually be signs that the wound is infected, such as discoloration and fluid or pus leaking from the incision.

Blood poisoning is also known as septicemia when it is in its early stages. As it progresses, it can turn deadly. If the infection goes untreated, there is a high chance that some of the body's organs will begin to malfunction and the bacteria will multiply and spread. If the bacteria begin to settle into a patient's limbs, amputation may be required to rid the body of infection. A variety of complications can develop, even in cases that are treated quickly.

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Discussion Comments
By Lostnfound — On Sep 10, 2014

@Grivusangel -- I'll go so far as to say anytime anyone has surgery of any kind, a white blood cell count should be done every day they're in the hospital. Imagine how many people would still be alive if doctors did that!

I have a friend who lives in the UK, and her dad had blood poisoning after a very simple procedure. She knew something was wrong, but the doctors were indifferent. Finally, some infection specialist happened to look in on him and was very alarmed at his symptoms. He ordered a white blood cell count, and it was sky high -- something like 30,000, which is dangerously high. He started her dad on antibiotics immediately. It was touch and go for a few days, but he made it. The specialist really crawled the other doctors and nurses about ignoring symptoms of blood poisoning.

By Grivusangel — On Sep 09, 2014

Blood poisoning is one of those conditions that really should hardly ever happen in a first world country, but too often does.

I've heard of too many people who contracted septicemia after a bowel perforation, when their doctors should have been looking for exactly that possibility.

It should be standard procedure for anyone who has had abdominal surgery, or any kind of intestinal issue, to do a white blood cell count every day while they're in the hospital. If the blood count starts going up, something is obviously wrong, and the doctors can start antibiotics immediately.

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