Secondary Logo

Journal Logo

Institutional members access full text with Ovid®

Severe Sepsis and Septic Shock in Pregnancy

Barton, John R. MD; Sibai, Baha M. MD

doi: 10.1097/AOG.0b013e318263a52d
Clinical Expert Series
Expert Discussion
Spanish Translation

Pregnancies complicated by severe sepsis and septic shock are associated with increased rates of preterm labor, fetal infection, and preterm delivery. Sepsis onset in pregnancy can be insidious, and patients may appear deceptively well before rapidly deteriorating with the development of septic shock, multiple organ dysfunction syndrome, or death. The outcome and survivability in severe sepsis and septic shock in pregnancy are improved with early detection, prompt recognition of the source of infection, and targeted therapy. This improvement can be achieved by formulating a stepwise approach that consists of early provision of time-sensitive interventions such as: aggressive hydration (20 mL/kg of normal saline over the first hour), initiation of appropriate empiric intravenous antibiotics (gentamicin, clindamycin, and penicillin) within 1 hour of diagnosis, central hemodynamic monitoring, and the involvement of infectious disease specialists and critical care specialists familiar with the physiologic changes in pregnancy. Thorough physical examination and imaging techniques or empiric exploratory laparotomy are suggested to identify the septic source. Even with appropriate antibiotic therapy, patients may continue to deteriorate unless septic foci (ie, abscess, necrotic tissue) are surgically excised. The decision for delivery in the setting of antepartum severe sepsis or septic shock can be challenging but must be based on gestational age, maternal status, and fetal status. The natural inclination is to proceed with emergent delivery for a concerning fetal status, but it is imperative to stabilize the mother first, because in doing so the fetal status will likewise improve. Prevention Aggressive treatment of sepsis can be expected to reduce the progression to severe sepsis and septic shock and prevention strategies can include preoperative skin preparations and prophylactic antibiotic therapy as well as appropriate immunizations.

The outcome and survivability in severe sepsis and septic shock in pregnancy are improved with early detection, prompt recognition of infection, and targeted therapy.

From the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Central Baptist Hospital, Lexington, Kentucky; and the Divison of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, Texas.

Continuing medical education for this article is available at

Corresponding author: John R. Barton, MD, 1740 Nicholasville Road, Lexington, KY 40503; e-mail:

Financial Disclosure The authors did not report any potential conflicts of interest.

© 2012 by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.