What Is the Difference Between Sepsis and Septicemia?

A dish of klebsiella oxytoca bacteria, which can cause sepsis.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 31 August 2014
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Sepsis and septicemia are two closely related medical conditions, both involving widespread inflammation and infection in the patient. In the case of sepsis, the condition involves a whole-body inflammatory response to an infection somewhere in the body that needs to be treated in order to resolve the sepsis. Septicemia is a term used to refer to the presence of bacteria in the blood, a potential cause of sepsis. This term is actually somewhat deprecated, and is often avoided in clinical practice due to confusion about the definition.

The difference between sepsis and septicemia primarily surrounds the fact that septicemia is an isolated phenomenon, while sepsis is a syndrome. Similar treatments are used for both conditions because both usually involve the presence of aggressive bacteria in the body and the patient may need strong antibiotics to survive the infection. Patients may also need to spend days or weeks in intensive care for monitoring for treatment during sepsis and septicemia.

In patients with sepsis, multi-organ failure can begin to occur as the inflammation spreads and creates a cascading series of medical problems while the body attempts to fight the infection. The patient usually needs to be treated in an intensive care setting. Powerful antibiotics are administered to fight the infection, and the patient is provided with supportive care to compensate for failing internal organs. Medical equipment like ventilators may be used to help patients breathe, for example, if they are having difficulty breathing independently.

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Septicemia, where bacteria enters the bloodstream, can be caused by complications of a localized infection or surgery. The patient can become very ill as the bacteria circulate through the body, causing a series of localized infections and leading to widespread inflammation. If septicemia is not treated early, it can result in sepsis. Untreated sepsis will eventually result in shock, coma, and death for the patient, and it is considered a clinical emergency.

Care providers may prefer to describe the presence of bacteria in the blood as “bacteremia,” avoiding the term “septicemia” altogether. The confusion between sepsis and septicemia can be seen in some texts that refer to the two conditions interchangeably. Physicians tend to prefer to use precise language when working with patients and each other to make sure everyone involved fully understands a diagnosis and its implications, and consequently may refrain from using terms known to cause confusion or uncertainty, including outdated terms or terms used in varying ways by different practitioners.

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aviva
Post 2

@bfree - The nurses are right your friend is very lucky to be alive and very lucky to have such a caring friend like you.

What she encountered was a life-threatening blood infection called septicemia, also referred to as blood poisoning. A word to the wise, seek medical attention immediately at the first signs and symptoms of sepsis. It could save your life.

bfree
Post 1

A very dear friend of mine developed septicaemia from a urinary tract infection and nearly lost her life over it.

That weekend we were going on a camping and hiking trip up in the Appalachian Mountains. She started feeling a slight stinging sensation when she urinated and began running a low grade fever the day we planned to leave.

She insisted that she would be fine and that we should go on our trip anyway. To make a long story short, on the second day of our trip I was driving forty-five miles to the nearest hospital because she was totally delirious with a fever of one hundred and four degrees.

They had her in ICU for three days hooked up to an IV. I was told her blood pressure was down to nothing and she was suffering from a sepsis infection that was caused by the untreated urinary tract infection.

That happened about a month ago and she is doing well today but I was told by the nurses that she was very lucky to be alive.

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