Bacteremia, Suspected (Adult)

Bacteremia is a bacterial infection that has spread to the bloodstream. This is serious because it can cause a lot of harm to the body. It can spread to other organs, including the bones, joints, kidneys, brain, and lungs. Bacteremia that spreads and causes significant inflammation in the body is called sepsis.

You will have lab tests and imaging tests. The lab tests will include blood cultures to check for bacteremia. Blood cultures will find out the type of bacteria that you have. You will likely be started on antibiotics even before the results of the blood cultures are known.


Bacteremia often starts with an infection in one area, but it then spreads to the blood. Almost any type of infection can cause bacteremia. This includes:

  • Urinary tract infection

  • Skin infection

  • Gastrointestinal problem

  • Infection after surgery

  • Lung infection (pneumonia)

  • Infection of a medical device placed in a vein or the bladder


At first, symptoms may seem like any local infection or illness. But then they get worse. Symptoms can include:

  • Fever and chills

  • Loss of appetite

  • Upset stomach (nausea) or vomiting

  • Trouble breathing or fast breathing

  • Fast heart rate

  • Feeling lightheaded or faint

  • Skin rashes or blotches

  • Confusion, severe sleepiness, or loss of consciousness

Home care

People with bacteremia are most often treated in the hospital. After the most severe part of the illness is better, you may be sent home to complete your treatment.

When caring for yourself at home:

  • Rest at home for the first 2 to 3 days. When resuming activity, don't let yourself become too tired.

  • You can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain, unless you were given a different pain medicine to use. Talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines if you have chronic liver or kidney disease. Talk with your provider if you have had a stomach ulcer or digestive bleeding. Also talk with your provider if you are taking medicine to prevent blood clots such as blood thinners.

  • If you were given antibiotics, take them until they are used up, or your provider tells you to stop. It's important to finish the antibiotics even though you feel better. This is to make sure the infection has cleared.

  • Your appetite may be poor, so a light diet is fine. Drink plenty of fluids (6 to 8 glasses of fluid per day). This includes water, soft drinks, sports drinks, juices, tea, or soup.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

Once the results of the blood culture are known, your healthcare provider may change your antibiotic. You can call for the results.

If you had X-rays, a CT scan, or an ultrasound, a healthcare provider will look at them. You will be told of any results that may affect your care.

Call 911

Call 911 if you have any of these:

  • Wheezing or trouble breathing

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Chest pain

  • Confusion or sudden change in behavior

  • Extreme drowsiness or trouble waking up

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Fast heart rate

  • Low blood pressure

  • Vomiting blood, or large amounts of blood in stool

  • Seizure

When to get medical care

Call your healthcare provider if you have any of these:

  • Cough with lots of colored mucus, or blood in your mucus

  • Severe headache

  • Severe face, neck, throat, or ear pain

  • Belly pain

  • Weakness, dizziness, repeated vomiting, or diarrhea

  • Joint pain or a new rash

  • Burning feeling when peeing (urinating)

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as advised by your provider

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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