What Is a Septic Embolism?

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  • Written By: Jennifer Long
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2019
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The human body can experience many different types of embolisms, which are blockages to blood flow by an object that lodges in a blood vessel. Not to be confused with a thrombus, which is the term given to a stationary blood clot, an embolus can be small clots, air bubbles or plaque among other objects, and it can travel through vessels to other parts of the body. When an embolism is caused by infected tissue, it is called a septic embolism, also known as an arterial embolism, and symptoms are often mistaken for other conditions, such as inflamed lymph nodules. Symptoms include pus where the infection originally occurred, numbness and sometimes convulsions.

One of the main symptoms of a septic embolism is the appearance of pus and inflammation. Infected tissue is common around intravenous or surgical locations, particularly around veins and other blood vessels. The immune system responds to the bacteria that enter the body at the site. Unfortunately, pieces of infected tissue can break from the area and travel through the vessels until they finally become lodged and block proper blood flow.


Another symptom of a septic embolism is numbness. The limbs, fingers and other locations of the body can feel numb or tingly as a result of the reduction of blood and oxygen to the area. Skin at the affected area can feel cold to the touch. In some instances, there may be a lack of a pulse to the area as well.

Strokes are common occurrences that can result from an embolism and are commonly referred to as septic strokes. Similar to traditional embolisms, a septic stroke blocks blood flow to and from the heart, affecting how the heart valves function. This shocks the heart and can lead to complete failure. The failure affects the amount of blood that circulates through the body all together, including blood flow to the brain. Without this blood flow, the brain is starved of the oxygen that it needs.

Diagnosing a septic embolism can prove to be difficult for medical professionals. Blood tests show an elevation in white blood cells, which signifies an infection, but it does not always show the cause of the infection. In many instances, sites of infection do not exhibit typical symptoms. There may not be any visible swelling or redness, which can make diagnosis more difficult.

Computer tomography scans can prove to be dissuading as well. These scans are often used to find various problems with the heart and the pulmonary system. The problem is that they do not have the ability to show the blockages that are a result of infectious tissue that occur with a septic embolism. They can only show solid or thick images that are common with blood clots or plaque clots.

Angiograms and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are the two types of tests that are commonly used to diagnose a septic embolism. These two tests provide imaging of blockages within the vessels and the heart valves. An MRI can be used with or without contrast as needed to get a proper image. Angiograms use small cameras that are navigated through vessels at the site of the blockage to get a better view.


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Post 1

An embolism is bad news in the human body. An embolism causes blood to back up or sometimes stop flowing to certain parts of the body. Your body needs blood to get to these parts of the body, carrying oxygen and keeping tissue alive.

When blood is lost to tissue or an organ for too long it can die. This portion of tissue or organ is no longer living and is subject to infection and rot. Without blood, a natural cleaner, an area may be vulnerable to infectious agents too.

An embolism doesn't have to cut off blood flow completely to be a problem. Partial loss can have an impact on quality of life in some way.

In the case

of some embolisms there may be medical intervention. Sometimes these surgeries can be a simple one and other times the surgery can be life threatening.

Some embolisms require emergency surgery. In cases of embolisms in the heart there can be a need to perform surgery immediately to save ones life.

Of course embolisms are like any other illness, it's a case by case issue. It depends on the patient and where the embolism happens.

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