Bacteremia refers to the presence of bacteria in your blood. That’s why some people call it “blood poisoning”. But the medical term is bacteremia. This condition might not have any clear symptoms. But sometimes, bacteremia symptoms can grow to become serious complications.
In this article, we will teach you about bacteremia and its symptoms. We will also talk about its causes and treatment.
Different bacteria might cause bacteremia. But regardless of the cause, timely treatment is very essential. This often requires the use of strong antibiotics. If not, complications might develop.
You might have heard people associate bacteremia with other conditions, such as sepsis and septicemia. All these are closely related terms but their meanings are slightly different. In a strict sense, bacteremia simply means that bacteria are present in a person’s bloodstream.
If you are healthy, bacteremia will likely clear up without causing any form of illness. But then, if there is already an infection within your bloodstream, it would be called septicemia. This is different from just bacteremia.
If you leave septicemia untreated, the infection could cause very serious complications. One such complication is sepsis. Sepsis happens when your immune system responds very strongly to clear off the infection.
The complications of sepsis include organ failure, septic shock, and sometimes death. That’s why you should treat bacteremia before it even causes septicemia or sepsis.
What Causes Bacteremia
Typically, bacteremia begins with one small infection, often localized. It could be an infection of the urinary tract or incision. It could also be any other form of infection.
In some cases, you might not even know the location of the primary infection in its early stages. This happens when there are no clear symptoms or signs of infection before it spreads to the bloodstream.
For instance, if your tooth becomes infected, you might only feel a slight toothache. But as the tooth infection continues, your toothache would become increasingly painful. You might use painkillers and mouthwash but the pain keeps getting worse.
It’s when the pain becomes unbearable that you are likely to seek treatment. By that time, you might feel much sicker, with chills and a fever. At this point, the bacteria have entered your bloodstream and might have caused the infection.
This is a typical example of how blood infection develops. But various bacteria can give you bacteremia and establish a bloodstream infection. Some examples include:
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Group A Streptococcus
- Escherichia coli
- Pneumococcal bacteria
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- Salmonella species
Some of the common ways by which bacteremia can occur include:
- Dental procedures such as tooth extraction or routine cleaning of the teeth
- An infection that spreads into the blood from another body part
- Through medical devices, such as breathing tubes and in-dwelling catheters
- Via severe burn or injuries that got infected
- A surgical procedure or incision
- Other Invasive procedures like endoscopy
- Admission into the ICU (Intensive care unit)
There is a higher risk that bacteremia would cause a serious blood infection (or septicemia) if the following factors are present:
- A weakened or suppressed immune system
- If you have medical devices implanted in your body
- If you’re exposed to aggressive bacteria strains
Some bacteremia cases are asymptomatic. If this is the case, it means that your immunity is strong enough to clear off the bacteria before it causes symptoms. You wouldn’t even know that you had bacteremia.
But when bacteremia causes bloodstream infection, you are likely to experience symptoms, such as fever, shivering, or chill. At this point, the bacteremia has become potentially dangerous. But sometimes, the fever is only mild and resolves as soon as the infection is treated.
The worst symptoms and signs of bacteremia come from major complications, rather than from bacteremia itself. These complications are collectively called sepsis. It includes symptoms and signs that occur due to blown-up immune responses to the infection.
Sepsis can cause the following symptoms:
- Fever and chills
- An abnormally fast heart rate
- Fast and shallow breathing
- Some mental changes, including confusion
In very bad cases, sepsis might develop into a septic shock. If this happens, your blood pressure would drop to very low levels and cause multiple organ failures. Death could occur as a result of these.
Other complications that could come from bacteremia include:
- Endocarditis – Your heart’s inner lining becomes inflamed. This means there is already an infection there
- Meningitis – The brain’s protective layers become infected and inflamed too
- Joint infections
Treatment of Bacteremia
Sometimes, bloodstream infections have vague signs that mimic other common conditions. But if you experience chills or fever, or you suddenly start shaking, you should see your doctor promptly. This is more important if you have an existing infection.
You should also take such signs seriously if you recently had your tooth extracted or went through a surgical procedure. This also puts you at risk.
Don’t take bacteremia for granted because it could lead to death if not properly treated. You should start by not ignoring any infection, however minor.
More so, if you are treating any infection, you should constantly monitor your symptoms. This would help to easily notice and diagnose bacteremia early and treat it before it becomes life-threatening.
Bacteremia treatment calls for the prompt usage of antibiotics. This would prevent fatal complications, such as sepsis.
In many cases where there are already symptoms, the doctor will place you on hospital admission. While you are given broad-spectrum antibiotics through your veins, your doctor will order blood tests to find the exact bacteria that caused the infection. The lab will also test for the bacteria’s antibiotic sensitivity.
The results of these tests will guide your doctor to adjust your drugs to suit your exact condition. Typically, the treatment should last for one to two weeks. But it could last longer depending on how severe the infection is.
Bacteremia symptoms would subside and in due course disappear before you finish the dose. But make sure you still finish the dose even after the symptoms have gone.