Sepsis: Diagnosis and Management

Link to article at PubMed

Gauer R, et al. Am Fam Physician 2020.


Guidelines published in 2016 provide a revised definition of sepsis: life-threatening organ dysfunction caused by a dysregulated host response to infection. The guidelines define septic shock as sepsis with circulatory, cellular, and metabolic dysfunction that is associated with a higher risk of mortality. The measurement of serum lactate has been incorporated into the latest septic shock definition. The guidelines recommend the Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (original and quick versions) as an important tool for early diagnosis. Respiratory, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, and skin and soft tissue infections are the most common sources of sepsis. Pneumonia is the most common cause of sepsis. Although many patients with sepsis have fever, the clinical manifestation can be subtle, particularly in older patients and those who are immunocompromised. Initial evaluation of patients with suspected sepsis includes basic laboratory tests, cultures, imaging studies as indicated, and sepsis biomarkers such as procalcitonin and lactate levels. Fluid resuscitation is the priority in early management, including administering an intravenous crystalloid at 30 mL per kg within the first three hours. Antimicrobial therapy should also be initiated early. Most research indicates that antimicrobial therapy should be started within three hours of presentation. The latest guidelines recommend starting antimicrobials within one hour, but this is controversial. Vasopressor therapy is indicated if hypotension persists despite fluid administration. Future trials of sepsis management are focusing on improving long-term rates of readmission and death, physical disability, cognitive impairment, and quality of life.


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