Blood Poisoning

Blood Poisoning

Blood Poisoning

What is blood poisoning?

Blood poisoning is a serious infection. It occurs when bacteria are in the bloodstream.

Despite its name, the infection has nothing to do with poison. Although not a medical term, “blood poisoning” is used to describe bacteremia, septicemia, or sepsis.

Still, the name sounds dangerous, and for good reason. Sepsis is a serious, potentially fatal infection. Blood poisoning can progress to sepsis rapidly. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential for treating blood poisoning, but understanding your risk factors is the first step in preventing the condition.

What causes blood poisoning?

Blood poisoning occurs when bacteria causing infection in another part of your body enter your bloodstream. The presence of bacteria in the blood is referred to as bacteremia or septicemia. The terms “septicemia” and “sepsis” are often used interchangeably, though technically they aren’t quite the same. Septicemia, the state of having bacteria in your blood, can lead to sepsis. Sepsis is a severe and often life-threatening state of infection if it’s left untreated. But any type of infection — whether bacterial, fungal, or viral — can cause sepsis. And these infectious agents don’t necessarily need to be in a person’s bloodstream to bring about sepsis.

Such infections most commonly occur in the lungs, abdomen, and urinary tract. Sepsis happens more often in people who are hospitalized, where the risk of infection is already higher.

Because blood poisoning occurs when bacteria enter your bloodstream in conjunction with another infection, you won’t develop sepsis without having an infection first.

Some common causes of infections that can cause sepsis include:

  • abdominal infection
  • an infected insect bite
  • central line infection, such as from a dialysis catheter or chemotherapy catheter
  • dental extractions or infected teeth
  • exposure of a covered wound to bacteria during surgical recovery, or not changing a surgical bandage frequently enough
  • exposure of any open wound to the environment
  • infection by drug-resistant bacteria
  • kidney or urinary tract infection
  • pneumonia
  • skin infection

RISK FACTORS

Some people are more susceptible than others to sepsis. Those who are more at risk include:

  • people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV, AIDS, or leukemia
  • young children
  • older adults
  • people who use intravenous drugs such as heroin
  • people with poor dental hygiene
  • those using a catheter
  • people who’ve had recent surgery or dental work
  • those working in an environment with great exposure to bacteria or viruses, such as in a hospital or outdoors

Recognizing the symptoms of blood poisoning

The symptoms of blood poisoning include:

  • chills
  • moderate or high fever
  • weakness
  • rapid breathing
  • increased heart rate or palpitations
  • paleness of the skin, especially in the face

Some of these symptoms are associated with the flu or other illnesses. However, if you’ve had surgery recently or you’re recovering from a wound, it’s important that you call your doctor immediately after experiencing these possible signs of blood poisoning.

Advanced symptoms of blood poisoning may be life-threatening and include:

  • confusion
  • red spots on the skin that may grow larger and look like a big, purple bruise
  • shock
  • little to no urine production
  • organ failure

Blood poisoning can lead to respiratory distress syndrome and septic shock. If the condition isn’t treated right away, these complications can lead to death.

Diagnosing blood poisoning

It’s difficult to self-diagnose blood poisoning because its symptoms mimic those of other conditions. The best way to determine if you have septicemia is to see a doctor. First, your doctor will perform a physical exam, which will include checking your temperature and blood pressure.

If blood poisoning is suspected, your doctor will run tests to look for signs of bacterial infection. Septicemia can be inferred with these tests:

  • blood culture testing
  • blood oxygen levels
  • blood count
  • clotting factor
  • urine tests including urine culture
  • chest X-ray
  • electrolyte and kidney function tests

Also, your doctor might see problems with liver or kidney function, as well as imbalances in electrolyte levels. If you have a skin wound, your doctor may take a sample of any fluids leaking from it to check for bacteria.

As a precaution, your doctor may also order an imaging scan. These tests can all help detect infection in your body’s organs:

  • X-ray
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Ultrasound

If bacteria are present, identifying what type they are will help your doctor determine which antibiotic to prescribe to clear the infection.

TREATMENT

Prompt treatment of blood poisoning is essential because the infection can quickly spread to tissues or your heart valves. Once you’re diagnosed with blood poisoning, you’ll likely receive treatment as an inpatient at a hospital. If you’re showing symptoms of shock, you’ll be admitted to the intensive care unit. Signs of shock include:

  • paleness
  • rapid, weak pulse
  • rapid, shallow breathing
  • dizziness or unconsciousness
  • low blood pressure

You may also receive oxygen and fluids intravenously to help maintain a healthy blood pressure and get rid of the infection. Blood clots are another concern in immobilized patients.

Sepsis is usually treated with hydration, often through an intravenous line, as well as antibiotics that target the organism causing the infection. Sometimes medications may need to be used to temporarily support low blood pressure. These medications are called vasopressors. If sepsis is severe enough to cause multi-organ dysfunction, that patient may need to be mechanically ventilated, or they may even need dialysis temporarily if their kidneys have failed.

Long-term outlook and recovery

Blood poisoning can be a deadly condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, septic shock has a 50 percent mortality rate. Even if treatment is successful, sepsis can lead to permanent damage. Your risk for future infections may also be greater.

The more closely you follow your doctor’s treatment plan, the greater your chance of a full recovery. Early and aggressive treatment in a hospital intensive care unit increases the chances you’ll survive sepsis. Most people can make a full recovery from mild sepsis with no lasting complications. With the right care, you can be feeling better in as little as a week or two.

If you survive severe sepsis, however, you’re at risk of developing serious complications. Some long-term side effects of sepsis include:

  • possible blood clots
  • organ failure, requiring surgery or lifesaving measures to be administered
  • tissue death (gangrene), requiring removal of the affected tissue or possibly amputation

PREVENTION

The best way to prevent blood poisoning is to treat and prevent infections. It’s also important to prevent any open wounds from becoming infected in the first place with proper cleaning and bandaging.

If you’ve had surgery, your doctor will likely prescribe an antibiotic as a precautionary measure against infections.

It’s best to err on the side of caution and call your doctor if you suspect you have an infection. Avoid places where you’re likely to encounter bacteria, viruses, or fungi if you’re prone to infection.
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What is Blood?

Blood is a constantly circulating fluid providing the body with nutrition, oxygen, and waste removal. Blood is mostly liquid, with numerous cells and proteins suspended in it, making blood "thicker" than pure water. The average person has about 5 liters (more than a gallon) of blood.

About Blood Donation

A blood donation occurs when a person voluntarily has blood drawn and used for transfusions and/or made into biopharmaceutical medications by a process called fractionation (separation of whole-blood components). Donation may be of whole blood (WB), or of specific components directly (the latter called apheresis). Blood banks often participate in the collection process as well as the procedures that follow it.

More Facts

A liquid called plasma makes up about half of the content of blood. Plasma contains proteins that help blood to clot, transport substances through the blood, and perform other functions. Blood plasma also contains glucose and other dissolved nutrients.

About half of blood volume is composed of blood cells:

• Red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues
• White blood cells, which fight infections
• Platelets, smaller cells that help blood to clot

Blood is conducted through blood vessels (arteries and veins). Blood is prevented from clotting in the blood vessels by their smoothness, and the finely tuned balance of clotting factors.

Blood Conditions

Hemorrhage (bleeding): Blood leaking out of blood vessels may be obvious, as from a wound penetrating the skin. Internal bleeding (such as into the intestines, or after a car accident) may not be immediately apparent.

Hematoma: A collection of blood inside the body tissues. Internal bleeding often causes a hematoma.

Leukemia: A form of blood cancer, in which white blood cells multiply abnormally and circulate through the blood. The abnormal white blood cells make getting sick from infections easier than normal.

Multiple myeloma: A form of blood cancer of plasma cells similar to leukemia. Anemia, kidney failure and high blood calcium levels are common in multiple myeloma.

Lymphoma: A form of blood cancer, in which white blood cells multiply abnormally inside lymph nodes and other tissues. The enlarging tissues, and disruption of blood's functions, can eventually cause organ failure.

Anemia: An abnormally low number of red blood cells in the blood. Fatigue and breathlessness can result, although anemia often causes no noticeable symptoms.

Hemolytic anemia: Anemia caused by rapid bursting of large numbers of red blood cells (hemolysis). An immune system malfunction is one cause.

Hemochromatosis: A disorder causing excessive levels of iron in the blood. The iron deposits in the liver, pancreas and other organs, causing liver problems and diabetes.

Sickle cell disease: A genetic condition in which red blood cells periodically lose their proper shape (appearing like sickles, rather than discs). The deformed blood cells deposit in tissues, causing pain and organ damage.

Bacteremia: Bacterial infection of the blood. Blood infections are serious, and often require hospitalization and continuous antibiotic infusion into the veins.

Malaria: Infection of red blood cells by Plasmodium, a parasite transmitted by mosquitos. Malaria causes episodic fevers, chills, and potentially organ damage.

Thrombocytopenia: Abnormally low numbers of platelets in the blood. Severe thrombocytopenia may lead to bleeding.

Leukopenia: Abnormally low numbers of white blood cells in the blood. Leukopenia can result in difficulty fighting infections.

Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC): An uncontrolled process of simultaneous bleeding and clotting in very small blood vessels. DIC usually results from severe infections or cancer.

Hemophilia: An inherited (genetic) deficiency of certain blood clotting proteins. Frequent or uncontrolled bleeding can result from hemophilia.

Hypercoaguable state: Numerous conditions can result in the blood being prone to clotting. A heart attack, stroke, or blood clots in the legs or lungs can result.

Polycythemia: Abnormally high numbers of red blood cells in the blood. Polycythemia can result from low blood oxygen levels, or may occur as a cancer-like condition.

Deep venous thrombosis (DVT): A blood clot in a deep vein, usually in the leg. DVTs are dangerous because they may become dislodged and travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism (PE).

Myocardial infarction (MI): Commonly called a heart attack, a myocardial infarction occurs when a sudden blood clot develops in one of the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart.

Source: WebMD

Today in the developed world, most blood donors are unpaid volunteers who donate blood for a community supply. In some countries, established supplies are limited and donors usually give blood when family or friends need a transfusion (directed donation). Many donors donate as an act of charity, but in countries that allow paid donation some donors are paid, and in some cases there are incentives other than money such as paid time off from work. Donors can also have blood drawn for their own future use (autologous donation). Donating is relatively safe, but some donors have bruising where the needle is inserted or may feel faint.

Potential donors are evaluated for anything that might make their blood unsafe to use. The screening includes testing for diseases that can be transmitted by a blood transfusion, including HIV and viral hepatitis. The donor must also answer questions about medical history and take a short physical examination to make sure the donation is not hazardous to his or her health. How often a donor can donate varies from days to months based on what component they donate and the laws of the country where the donation takes place. For example, in the United States, donors must wait eight weeks (56 days) between whole blood donations but only seven days between plateletpheresis donations and twice per seven-day period in plasmapheresis.

The amount of blood drawn and the methods vary. The collection can be done manually or with automated equipment that takes only specific components of the blood. Most of the components of blood used for transfusions have a short shelf life, and maintaining a constant supply is a persistent problem. This has led to some increased interest in autotransfusion, whereby a patient's blood is salvaged during surgery for continuous reinfusion—or alternatively, is "self-donated" prior to when it will be needed. (Generally, the notion of "donation" does not refer to giving to one's self, though in this context it has become somewhat acceptably idiomatic.)

Who can give blood

Most people can give blood. You can give blood if you:

  • are fit and healthy
  • weigh between 7 stone 12 lbs and 25 stone, or 50kg and 160kg
  • are aged between 17 and 66 (or 70 if you have given blood before)
  • are over 70 and have given blood in the last two years

How often can I give blood?

Men can give blood every 12 weeks and women can give blood every 16 weeks. Find out more about what happens on the day of your donation.

Check you are able to give blood

You can check some of the most common eligibility questions we receive from blood donors.

You can register here as a blood donor.

The common reasons donors should check if they can give blood are:

  • if you are receiving medical or hospital treatment
  • if you are taking medication
  • during and after pregnancy
  • if you feel ill
  • if you have cancer
  • after receiving blood, blood products or organs.

Women under 20 - check if you can give blood.

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