​Septicemia: Diagnosis, Causes and Treatment

Septicemia, commonly referred to as blood poisoning, is an infection that is mainly caused when large amounts of bacteria enter your bloodstream. In simple terms, Septicemia is caused when the toxins from the bacterial infection, mostly on the lungs or skin, enters your bloodstream and spreads to your entire body. It is a life-threatening condition and if left untreated can cause organ failure and tissue damage. In serious cases, it may even lead to death.

Septicemia is a serious condition if not treated well may progress to Sepsis, Septic shock or Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). Septicemia is often confused with Sepsis. While Sepsis on the other hand is a more serious condition caused due to Septicemia. It is a condition that causes inflammation throughout the body causing blood clots further making it difficult for free-flow of oxygen leading to organ failure. Septicemia is a bacterial infection that spreads through your bloodstream. While Sepsis is your body’s reaction to that infection. Septic shock is a serious complication that causes a serious drop in blood pressure. The toxins released in the bloodstream due to infection may block the oxygen flow resulting in tissue damage or oxygen failure. Acute respiratory distress syndrome is another serious complication caused by Septicemia. This condition occurs due to lack of oxygen supply to lungs and blood further causing lung damage, memory issues, hearing issues and brain damage.

Causes of Septicemia

As mentioned earlier, Septicemia is mainly caused due to an infection that occurs in another part of your body that rapidly enters your bloodstream. Urinary tract infection, Kidney infection, Pneumonia are some of the common infections that may cause Septicemia.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Septicemia

A person with the condition may experience serious symptoms even in the initial stages. Each person may experience different symptoms.

Initial symptoms of Septicemia are:

  • Fever
  • Changes in the heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • High temperature
  • Changes in the skin colour
  • Shallow breathing
  • Discomfort
  • Loss of appetite​​
  • Sensitivity to light

As the condition progresses a person may experience serious symptoms that may include:

  • Confusion
  • Appearance of red dots on skin
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of adequate blood flow
  • Shock

If you experience any symptoms of Septicemia seek immediate medical help. Never try to treat the condition or symptoms at home. This may cause serious complications.

Development of Septicemia after surgery or after a patient contracts an infectious disease indicates that the infectious process has escaped the immune system’s control and necessitates urgent medical attention. Because of both the more invasive technologies used and the increased prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the hospital setting, septicemia has increased in both severity and incidence, especially in hospitalised patients.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Septicemia

Diagnosis

Your doctor may conduct a physical examination and ask you about the symptoms you face. Your doctor may understand the pattern of your symptoms and how often you face them. If you have symptoms of Septicemia, your doctor may ask you to undergo certain tests. Your doctor may also ask you about your medical history.

To diagnose the condition, your doctor needs to understand the cause and type of infection and to what extent has the body been affected. To understand the cause and type of infection, your doctor may recommend certain blood tests.

To know to what extent your body has been affected your doctor may recommend you x-rays, scans or a kidney/ heart/ liver function test.

To diagnose bacterial infection your doctor may ask you to undergo tests on different body fluids including urine, blood, skin sores and respiratory secretions. In addition, other tests you may need to undergo include cell and platelet count tests. Your doctor may also analyse your blood’s ability to clot.

For individuals with breathing difficulties, tests to check oxygen and carbon dioxide levels are recommended.

You are more prone to developing Septicemia if:

  • You are pregnant.
  • You have a weak immune system.
  • You are elderly with certain medical conditions.
  • You have diabetes.
  • You use breathing tubes.
  • You are/ were hospitalised.
  • You have medical conditions such as appendicitis, pneumonia, cirrhosis or urinary tract infection.

Kids and senior citizens are more prone to developing the condition.

Treatment:

Septicemia is a serious condition and needs to be treated at a hospital. Your doctor may recommend treatment based on certain factors including your age, medical history, physical health, medications you take, allergies, and to what extent your body is affected. The treatment may also vary depending on the symptoms you experience.

Initial treatment may include antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. In most cases, doctors prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics that are effective to treat a wide range of bacteria. In cases, where specific bacteria are identified, your doctor may prescribe focused antibiotics.

Your doctor may also prescribe medications and fluids to treat blood pressure. If you experience low blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe vasopressors. In case of breathing issues, oxygen is supplied through a mask. In severe cases, your doctor may also recommend surgery to remove damaged tissue.

A bacterial infection is the main cause of Septicemia. If you experience any bacterial infection, it is important to treat it immediately to prevent the bacteria from entering your bloodstream. If you have a weak immune, it is advised to take precautions to avoid bacterial infection. Some of the precautions to help prevent bacterial infection include consuming a healthy diet, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking, avoiding consumption of unprescribed drugs and washing hands regularly. If you have any broken skin make sure you clean it thoroughly and keep it clean to prevent infection.

Make sure your child does not miss any vaccination dose to prevent him/her from certain bacteria.

The condition when diagnosed early can be treated with the help of antibiotics. In some cases, even after treatment, an individual may experience organ damage.

Takeaway

Septicemia is a serious condition and needs immediate medical attention. Seek immediate medical help if you experience any serious symptoms including changes in the heart rate, difficulty in breathing, chills, high fever, low blood pressure or changes in the mental status. With early diagnosis and proper treatment, it is possible to treat the condition effectively. In some cases, individuals with a weak immune system or pre-existing medical conditions may experience permanent organ damage.

Dr. Rajesh Verma, Director & Senior Consultant-Orthopaedics, Spine Surgery,  Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Delhi.

Narayana Health

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