Objective: In 2003, critical care and infectious disease experts representing 11 international organizations developed management guidelines for severe sepsis and septic shock that would be of practical use for the bedside clinician, under the auspices of the Surviving Sepsis Campaign, an international effort to increase awareness and improve outcome in severe sepsis.
Design: The process included a modified Delphi method, a consensus conference, several subsequent smaller meetings of subgroups and key individuals, teleconferences, and electronic-based discussion among subgroups and among the entire committee.
Methods: We used a modified Delphi methodology for grading recommendations, built on a 2001 publication sponsored by the International Sepsis Forum. We undertook a systematic review of the literature graded along five levels to create recommendation grades from A to E, with A being the highest grade. Pediatric considerations were provided to contrast adult and pediatric management.
Results: Key recommendations, listed by category and not by hierarchy, include early goal-directed resuscitation of the septic patient during the first 6 hrs after recognition; appropriate diagnostic studies to ascertain causative organisms before starting antibiotics; early administration of broad-spectrum antibiotic therapy; reassessment of antibiotic therapy with microbiology and clinical data to narrow coverage, when appropriate; a usual 7–10 days of antibiotic therapy guided by clinical response; source control with attention to the method that balances risks and benefits; equivalence of crystalloid and colloid resuscitation; aggressive fluid challenge to restore mean circulating filling pressure; vasopressor preference for norepinephrine and dopamine; cautious use of vasopressin pending further studies; avoiding low-dose dopamine administration for renal protection; consideration of dobutamine inotropic therapy in some clinical situations; avoidance of supranormal oxygen delivery as a goal of therapy; stress-dose steroid therapy for septic shock; use of recombinant activated protein C in patients with severe sepsis and high risk for death; with resolution of tissue hypoperfusion and in the absence of coronary artery disease or acute hemorrhage, targeting a hemoglobin of 7–9 g/dL; appropriate use of fresh frozen plasma and platelets; a low tidal volume and limitation of inspiratory plateau pressure strategy for acute lung injury and acute respiratory distress syndrome; application of a minimal amount of positive end-expiratory pressure in acute lung injury/acute respiratory distress syndrome; a semirecumbent bed position unless contraindicated; protocols for weaning and sedation/analgesia, using either intermittent bolus sedation or continuous infusion sedation with daily interruptions/lightening; avoidance of neuromuscular blockers, if at all possible; maintenance of blood glucose <150 mg/dL after initial stabilization; equivalence of continuous veno-veno hemofiltration and intermittent hemodialysis; lack of utility of bicarbonate use for pH ≥7.15; use of deep vein thrombosis/stress ulcer prophylaxis; and consideration of limitation of support where appropriate. Pediatric considerations included a more likely need for intubation due to low functional residual capacity; more difficult intravenous access; fluid resuscitation based on weight with 40–60 mL/kg or higher needed; decreased cardiac output and increased systemic vascular resistance as the most common hemodynamic profile; greater use of physical examination therapeutic end points; unsettled issue of high-dose steroids for therapy of septic shock; and greater risk of hypoglycemia with aggressive glucose control.
Conclusion: Evidence-based recommendations can be made regarding many aspects of the acute management of sepsis and septic shock that are hoped to translate into improved outcomes for the critically ill patient. The impact of these guidelines will be formally tested and guidelines updated annually and even more rapidly as some important new knowledge becomes available.