What is the difference between sepsis and septicemia?

Updated: Oct 07, 2020
  • Author: Andre Kalil, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Michael R Pinsky, MD, CM, Dr(HC), FCCP, FAPS, MCCM  more...
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Answer

Over many years, the terms sepsis and septicemia have referred to several ill-defined clinical conditions present in a patient with bacteremia. Definitions have not changed greatly since 1914, when Schottmueller wrote, “Septicemia is a state of microbial invasion from a portal of entry into the blood stream which causes sign of illness.”

In practice, these two terms have often been used interchangeably; however, only about half of patients with signs and symptoms of sepsis have positive results on blood culture. [3, 4, 5] Furthermore, not all patients with bacteremia have signs of sepsis. It follows, therefore, that sepsis and septicemia are not in fact identical.

In the past few decades, the discovery of endogenous mediators of the host response has led to the recognition that the clinical syndrome of sepsis is the result of excessive activation of host defense mechanisms rather than the direct effect of microorganisms. Sepsis and its sequelae represent a continuum of clinical and pathophysiologic severity.


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