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Blood Poisoning—The Causes and the Symptoms

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I don’t know about you, but when I hear the term “blood poisoning” I think of a couple of teenage buddies trying to pierce their ears with a nail or something, and they end up getting an infection that turns to blood poisoning. It’s one of those terms that I can’t really describe in terms of its symptoms or what it really means, but I can come up with some pretty nasty scenarios that I’m pretty sure can cause it.

Actually, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website, blood poisoning isn’t even a true medical term. When someone has what is commonly known as blood poisoning, there isn’t any true poison per se in the bloodstream. But there is bacteria in the blood, which in the medical world is known as “bacteremia.” Sepsis or septicemia is another “correct” term for blood poisoning. But for the sake of argument and using the more common term (plus the term that’s easiest for this author to spell over and over in this article), we’ll go with blood poisoning for the duration of this two-part story.

So, how do you get blood poisoning? In most situations, blood poisoning happens when bacteria escapes from an infection and gets into the bloodstream. It may also happen due to a burn, infected incision after surgery, or a wound or cut. All of these situations may cause enough bacteria to get into the blood to start causing problems. In general, elderly people who already have a health problem and children are especially vulnerable to blood poisoning, and your risks increase if your immune system is already compromised.

Other ways you can contract blood poisoning is through internal health issues like pneumonia, boils, urinary tract infections, abscessed teeth, and gum problems. Some people have even gotten blood poisoning from an injection.

The symptoms of blood poisoning may include any of the following: fever, chills and shivering, headache, rapid breathing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, skin that feels cold, clammy and/or pale, delirium, depression, and loss of consciousness. These symptoms may come on suddenly, and as you can probably guess, they are not a lot of fun to deal with. Actually, since so many of them mimic the flu people suffering from blood poisoning may not realize they are dealing with something different. So it’s important to be aware of the situations that can lead to it so you can alert your doctor right away if you feel something is wrong.

For example, I know someone who was battling cancer who went in for a regular dental check-up and cleaning. Although he had seen the dentist a zillion times in his life and did just fine, the cancer had weakened his immune system enough that he started showing signs of blood poisoning. All of the scraping and cleaning that happened that day caused some bleeding in his gums, and the bacteria the hygienists was busy removing from his teeth went right into the sore areas and hopped right into the bloodstream. Within a matter of hours after his routine checkup he was running a fever, cold and clammy, and felt just generally awful. He called his oncologist who prescribed antibiotics and he felt better pretty quickly, but it was definitely scary for him at the time.

In the second part of this article, we will look at ways to prevent blood poisoning.




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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.