Conditions & Treatments

Septicemia

Septicemia is the clinical name for blood poisoning.

Septicemia

What is septicemia?

Septicemia is the clinical name for blood poisoning. Septicemia that progresses to septic shock has a death rate as high as 50 percent, depending on the type of organism involved. Septicemia is a medical emergency and requires urgent medical treatment.

How does septicemia relate to meningitis

Some bacteria that cause meningitis can also cause septicemia, particularly the meningococcal form. When meningococcus invades the body, it enters from the throat, gets into the bloodstream, and travels through the blood to the meninges.

  • In some cases, the bacteria multiply uncontrollably in the bloodstream, which results in septicemia, before the bacteria can infect the meninges.

  • In other cases, infection in the bloodstream and in the meninges develops at the same time, and these patients develop both septicemia and meningitis.

  • In a minority of cases, the body can stop the bacteria multiplying in the bloodstream, but not in the meninges, and these patients develop meningitis.

What are the symptoms of septicemia?

The following are the most common symptoms of septicemia. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

Patients with septicemia often develop a hemorrhagic rash--a cluster of tiny blood spots that look like pin pricks in the skin. If untreated, these gradually get bigger and begin to look like fresh bruises. These bruises then join together to form larger areas of purple skin damage and discoloration.

Septicemia develops very quickly. The patient rapidly becomes very ill, and may:

  • Lose interest in food and surroundings

  • Become feverish

  • Feel cold, with cool hands and feet

  • Become lethargic, anxious, or agitated

  • Experience a coma and sometimes death

Those who become ill more slowly may also develop some of the signs of meningitis. The symptoms of septicemia may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

Treatment for septicemia

Specific treatment for septicemia will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

Septicemia is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. In most cases, treatment will involve antibiotic medication.

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Imaging

  • Pediatric Imaging
    The Pediatric Imaging Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging specializes in ensuring the safety and comfort of child patients while providing the latest technology and the expertise of specialized pediatric radiologists.

The following related clinical trials and research studies are currently seeking participants at Massachusetts General Hospital. Search for clinical trials and studies in another area of interest.

View all departments

Departments and Centers at Mass General have a reputation for excellence in patient care. View a list of all departments.