I suspect I have blood poisoning. Should I see my doctor?

Answers from James M. Steckelberg, M.D.

"Blood poisoning" is not a medical term. But as the term is usually used, it refers to the presence of bacteria in the blood (bacteremia) — and not a poisonous substance in the blood. However, bacteremia is a serious illness and requires prompt medical attention.

When to see a doctor

If you recently had a medical or dental illness or procedure, such as a wound infection or tooth extraction, and have any of the following signs and symptoms, see your doctor right away:

  • Sudden fever
  • Chills, with or without shaking

A diagnosis of bacteremia is confirmed by blood cultures. Treatment requires hospitalization and includes intravenous antibiotics. Without prompt treatment, bacteremia can spread to other areas such as heart valves or other tissues, or progress to severe sepsis and septic shock, which may be life-threatening.

Mar. 20, 2015