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Sepsis in adults

Last reviewed: 4 Nov 2023
Last updated: 26 Jul 2023



History and exam

Key diagnostic factors

  • high (>101°F [>38°C]) or low (<96.8°F [<36°C]) temperature
  • tachycardia
  • tachypnea
  • acutely altered mental status
  • poor capillary refill, mottling of the skin, or ashen appearance
  • signs associated with specific source of infection
  • low oxygen saturation
  • arterial hypotension
  • decreased urine output
  • cyanosis
More key diagnostic factors

Other diagnostic factors

  • purpura fulminans
  • jaundice
  • ileus
Other diagnostic factors

Risk factors

  • age >65 years
  • immunocompromise
  • indwelling intravenous lines or urinary catheters
  • recent surgery or other invasive procedures
  • hemodialysis
  • diabetes mellitus
  • intravenous drug use
  • alcohol use disorder
  • breached skin integrity
  • pregnancy
  • urban residence
  • lung disease
  • male sex
  • non-white ancestry
  • winter season
More risk factors

Diagnostic investigations

1st investigations to order

  • blood culture
  • lactate levels
  • CBC with differential
  • blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and serum electrolytes
  • serum creatinine
  • liver function tests
  • coagulation studies (INR, activated PTT)
  • serum glucose
  • CRP
  • other cultures (e.g., of sputum, stool, urine, wounds, catheters, prosthetic implants, epidural sites, pleural or peritoneal fluid)
  • arterial blood gas (ABG) or venous blood gas (VBG)
  • chest x-ray
  • ECG
More 1st investigations to order

Investigations to consider

  • lumbar puncture
  • echocardiogram (transthoracic or transesophageal)
  • ultrasound scan
  • CT chest or abdomen
  • serum procalcitonin
More investigations to consider

Treatment algorithm


presumed or confirmed sepsis



Andre C. Kalil, MD, MPH, FACP, FIDSA, FCCM


Department of Internal Medicine

Division of Infectious Diseases

University of Nebraska Medical Center




ACK declares that he has no competing interests.

Kelly Cawcutt, MD, MS, FACP, FIDSA, FCCM

Associate Professor

Department of Internal Medicine

Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep & Allergy

University of Nebraska Medical Center




KC has received payment for medical writing from IDSA and CloroxPro. KC has received honoraria for creation of educational materials from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) and payment from BD. KC has received honoraria and travel expenses from NAPA. KC has received payment for book proposal review from Elsevier.


Professor Andre Kalil and Dr Kelly Cawcutt would like to gratefully acknowledge Dr Ron Daniels, Dr Matt Inada-Kim, Dr Aamir Saifuddin, Dr Tim Nutbeam, Dr Edward Berry, Dr Lewys Richmond, and Dr Paul Kempen, previous contributors to this topic.


RD has received payment for consultancy on sepsis from Kimal Plc, manufacturers of vascular access devices; from the Northumbria Partnership, a patient safety collaborative; and, where annual leave or other income was compromised in fulfilling his charity duties, from the UK Sepsis Trust. RD has received sponsorship to attend and speak at one meeting from Abbott Diagnostics. He is CEO of the UK Sepsis Trust and Global Sepsis Alliance, and advises HM Government, the World Health Organization, and NHS England on sepsis. Each of these positions demands that he express opinion on strategies around the recognition and management of sepsis. MIK is a national clinical advisor on sepsis to NHS England and a national clinical advisor on deterioration to NHS Improvement. He was reimbursed for a slide set by Relias Learning. AS is the clinical fellow to the National Medical Director at NHS Improvement. AS has been sponsored on two occasions by Dr Falk Pharma UK to attend specialist gastroenterology conferences abroad; there was no contractual obligation to disseminate product information. TN is a clinical adviser to the UK Sepsis Trust. EB, LR, and PK declare that they have no competing interests.

Peer reviewers

Steven M. Opal, MD, FIDSA

Professor of Medicine

Infectious Disease Division

Rhode Island Hospital

Alpert Medical School of Brown University




SMO declares that he has no competing interests.

Laura Evans, MD, MSc, FCCP, FCCM

Associate Professor

NYU School of Medicine

Medical Director of Critical Care

Bellevue Hospital Center

New York



LE serves as the guidelines co-chair and on the steering committee of the Surviving Sepsis Campaign.

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  • Guidelines

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  • Patient leaflets

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  • Calculators

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  • Videos

    Diagnostic lumbar puncture in adults: animated demonstration

    Venepuncture and phlebotomy: animated demonstration

    More videos
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