Bacteremia: Definition, Symptoms, Complications & Treatment

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  • 0:03 What Is Bacteremia?
  • 0:33 Signs, Symptoms, &…
  • 1:53 Treatment
  • 2:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Bacteremia is often confused with sepsis, but they are not the same thing. In this lesson, you'll learn what bacteremia is, how it might be connected to sepsis, and what its signs, symptoms, complications, and treatments are.

What Is Bacteremia?

If you are healthy, there should be somewhere around 100 trillion bacteria in your digestive tract and 0 bacteria in your blood. Quite the contrast, right? But if you do happen to have bacteria in your bloodstream, you have bacteremia, and this can prove deadly in some cases. The 'bacter-' refers to bacteria and the suffix of '-emia' refers to a condition of the blood. Let's find out this condition's signs, symptoms, possible complications, and treatment options.

Signs, Symptoms, & Complications

Although bacteria can be dangerous, and bacteria found where they're not supposed to can be even more so, the reality is that many cases of bacteremia resolve without any obvious clinical signs or symptoms.

Of course, this is by no means always the case. Some people may develop a mild fever. The worst signs and symptoms stemming from bacteremia actually result from a major complication of bacteremia known as sepsis. Sepsis is a collection of signs and symptoms that occur as a result of an exaggerated immune system response to a systemic infection, like bacteremia. Sepsis can lead to signs such as:

  • Fever
  • Chills, which may include shaking
  • A rapid heart rate
  • A rapid and shallow rate of breathing
  • Mental changes, like confusion

In the worst cases, sepsis can turn into septic shock. This is where a person's blood pressure drops to dangerously low levels, organs begin to fail as a result, and death is a very real possibility.

Other possible complications of bacteremia include:

  • Endocarditis, the inflammation of the inner lining of the heart. By extension, this often implies an infection of the inner lining of the heart as well. This can damage a person's heart valves.
  • Infection of the protective layers of the brain, the meninges
  • Joint infections


The most important treatment for bacteremia itself is the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics are drugs that either kill bacteria or inhibit their growth. This might include antibiotics called amoxicillin, ampicillin, gentamicin, or vancomycin among many others. The choice depends on the doctor's assessment of the patient's state as well as any test results that may reveal whether one antibiotic will be more effective than another.

The source of bacteria, if identified, must also be removed. For example, this could be something like a catheter placed into a person's vein in order to deliver medications and/or fluids.

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