Blood Poisoning Signs & Symptoms

Blood poisoning, or sepsis, is the body's inflammatory response to a bacterial infection entering the blood stream. It occurs mostly in hospitals, in people with compromised immune systems and people with chronic and debilitating diseases that weaken the body systems. If you have an infected wound or an infection not responding to oral antibiotics and suddenly develop a fever, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, a change in blood pressure or mental state, you may have sepsis (see Ref. 1). Sepsis is extremely dangerous and can cause organ failure and sometimes death.

Critical Signs & Symptoms

The warning signs and symptoms of sepsis are different depending on how strong the source of infection is, where and how the infection enters the body and the health of the person being infected (see Ref 1). In the early phase of sepsis you may not notice a change in blood pressure -- dizziness or light headedness when changing position can be a sign-- but may notice the sudden onset of fever, increased heart rate, sweating in some cases and rapid breathing. As sepsis progresses, you may notice a feeling of confusion or decreased alertness. As time goes on, signs and symptoms include a change in blood pressure, usually lower caused by sepsis, although it may rise. The feet and legs may become cool even though the core of your body remains warm. Blue patches may appear around the mouth and on your feet, legs, hands and places on your body resting against a bed or chair.

Wounds & Sepsis

Sepsis can be caused by a sharp object accidentally piercing the skin, including animal and insect bites. Redness, warmth, some pain and sometimes pus are the common signs and symptoms that infection is present. In some cases one or more red lines travel outward from the injured site. This does not automatically mean you have blood poisoning, only that the infection is spreading. This situation still poses a threat for sepsis and medical attention is necessary 2. Due to decreased sensation in the feet and legs, diabetics may not be aware of a puncture wound until swelling, warmness, discoloration or oozing pus is noticed. The authors of a 2011 article in the “The International Journal of Lower Extremity Wounds,” recommend that diabetics have an x-ray after a puncture wound to make sure there is no foreign material in the wound or that bone damage has not occurred. This practice may help prevent sepsis and amputation later (Ref 2).

Organ Involvement & Sepsis

Signs and symptoms of organ failure include the warning signs and symptoms of sepsis plus additional symptoms related to the organ that is failing. For example, in respiratory failure, heart palpatations, or arrhythmias, restlessness and anxiety related to the breathing difficulties may occur. In some cases you may see the veins in the neck swell and stand out. In heart failure, the blood pressure is so low it cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to the heart which may result in chest pain or a heart attack. In kidney failure, you may notice decreased urine output or no output a all. In liver failure, you may notice swollen legs, a jaundiced or yellow skin color, extreme fatigue and in some cases some bleeding as the liver is not producing enough clotting factors for the blood 9see Ref. 3).

Seek Medical Advice

Sepsis is more common in the young and elderly, hospitalization, after surgery and in individuals with compromised immune systems -those with chronic illnesses, the critically ill and cancer patients following treatment. Approximately 750,000 Americans acquire sepsis each year -- mostly in hospitals -- from accidents, such as:

  • puncture wounds
  • or infections developing after surgery
  • catheterization
  • intravenous use
  • the high prevalence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria
  • known as MRSA (See Ref