Objectives: Limited research has been conducted to compare the test characteristics of the 1991 and 2001 sepsis consensus definitions. This study assessed the accuracy of the two sepsis consensus definitions among adult critically ill patients compared to sepsis case adjudication by three senior clinicians.
Design: Observational study of patients admitted to intensive care units.
Setting: Seven intensive care units of an academic medical center.
Patients: A random sample of 960 patients from all adult intensive care unit patients between October 2007 and December 2008.
Measurements and Main Results: Sensitivity, specificity, and the area under the receiver operating characteristic curve for the two consensus definitions were calculated by comparing the number of patients who met or did not meet consensus definitions vs. the number of patients who were or were not diagnosed with sepsis by adjudication. The 1991 sepsis definition had a high sensitivity of 94.6%, but a low specificity of 61.0%. The 2001 sepsis definition had a slightly increased sensitivity but a decreased specificity, which were 96.9% and 58.3%, respectively. The areas under the receiver operating characteristic curve for the two definitions were not statistically different (0.778 and 0.776, respectively). The sensitivities and areas under the receiver operating characteristic curve of both definitions were lower at the 24-hr time window level than those of the intensive care unit stay level, though their specificities increased slightly. Fever, high white blood cell count or immature forms, low Glasgow coma score, edema, positive fluid balance, high cardiac index, low Pao2/FIO2 ratio, and high levels of creatinine and lactate were significantly associated with sepsis by both definitions and adjudication.
Conclusions: Both the 1991 and the 2001 sepsis definition have a high sensitivity but low specificity; the 2001 definition has a slightly increased sensitivity but a decreased specificity compared to the 1991 definition. The diagnostic performances of both definitions were suboptimal. A parsimonious set of significant predictors for sepsis diagnosis is likely to improve current sepsis case definitions.