Sepsis (Blood Poisoning)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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Why are there so many diseases with "sepsis," "septic," "septicemia," or "blood poisoning" in their name?

Unfortunately, both medical personnel and laypeople have used these terms interchangeably and then linked them to either a particular organism (usually bacterial) that can cause sepsis, to a site in the body in which an infection originates that leads to sepsis, or to a clinical situation that leads to sepsis as described above.

For example, meningococcal sepsis, meningococcal septicemia, septic meningitis, and meningococcal blood poisoning can refer to the same entity, an infection of the patient by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis that has spread from the meninges (brain membranes) to the bloodstream, resulting in the patient having at least two of the four criteria outlined above for sepsis. Common examples of a clinical situation used in the same way are puerperal sepsis, puerperal septicemia, puerperal or childbirth blood poisoning, and maternal septicemia postpartum. All four terms represent infection that occurs during the puerperium (time around the delivery of a baby) that leads to sepsis criteria for the patient. The infectious agent is not described when the body site or situation is linked to "sepsis" or the other terms. The following is a short partial list of both organism and organ system (and organ-related) terms that are seen in both the lay and medical literature:

  • MRSA sepsis: sepsis caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria
  • VRE sepsis: sepsis caused by vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus species of bacteria
  • urosepsis: sepsis originating from a urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • wound sepsis: sepsis originating from an infection of a wound
  • neonatal sepsis or septicemia: sepsis seen in newborns, usually in the first four weeks after birth; sepsis neonatorum means the same as neonatal sepsis
  • septic abortion: an abortion due to infection with sepsis in the mother

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There are many more examples of linking terms to sepsis (for example, AIDS, tattoo, spider bite). Occasionally, terms like hemorrhagic septicemia are used to describe a symptom (internal bleeding) that occurs with sepsis. The trend in medicine currently is to decrease the use of the terms septicemia and blood poisoning in favor of the terms sepsis or septic, because sepsis is defined most concisely. Continue Reading

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/9/2015
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