Bacteremia Definition

What You Should Know About Bacteremia

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Bacteremia is an infection, caused by bacteria, that enters the bloodstream. It may also be referred to as septicemia, sepsis, septic shock, blood poisoning, or bacteria in the blood.

Causes of Bacteremia

Bacteremia typically starts with a small, localized infection, such as an infected incision, a urinary tract infection or another type of infection. Sometimes the individual doesn't even know where the infection was in the early stages, as they didn't not notice any signs of symptoms of infection while the infection was in one location.

  

For an example, we will say the individual has an infected tooth. At first, the patient feels a minor toothache. Then, as the infection continues, the toothache becomes more and more painful. Before he can get an appointment with the dentist, the patient notices a bad taste in his mouth, caused by pus forming around the tooth. He tries to use mouthwash and takes ibuprofen for the pain, but it continues to get worse.

He knows he needs treatment, but decides he can wait until the next day for his scheduled dental appointment. The next day comes and the patient feels much sicker, is having a fever and chills, and starts to feel exhausted as the worsening infection enters the bloodstream.

Sepsis

When the infection spreads to the bloodstream, it has a new name: bacteremia. Bacteremia simply means bacteria in the blood. This condition is better known by other more common but much scarier names: sepsis and septicemia.

The body will continue to try to fight the infection, but the infection is widespread at this point, moving through the bloodstream and the entire body. 

At this point, blood tests will show that the body is responding to the foreign bacteria with an immune response and blood cultures will show the presence of bacteria.

 

Bacteremia as a Precursor to Septic Shock

An infection that begins to travel in the bloodstream can be life-threatening and must be treated aggressively with antibiotics to prevent sepsis from worsening and turning into septic shock. 

In cases where the condition progresses to septic shock, the patient will need medications to increase blood pressure, IV antibiotics, fluids and possibly a ventilator to assist with breathing.

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