What is Involved in Making a Sepsis Diagnosis?

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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2019
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Sepsis is a potentially fatal illness that typically begins as a bacterial infection somewhere in the body. Sepsis occurs when the bacteria multiply and overwhelm the bloodstream. Common symptoms include fever, chills, and confusion. Making a sepsis diagnosis typically involves several types of blood tests, although other bodily fluids may be tested as well. Treatment begins as soon as a sepsis diagnosis is suspected and almost always involves intensive antibiotic therapy, along with other supportive care as needed.

As sepsis involves a bacterial infection of the blood, blood tests are vital when doctors are attempting to make a sepsis diagnosis. A blood culture may be the first test ordered, as it will reveal the presence of bacteria in the blood. This test can also determine how severe the infection is so that treatment can begin right away. Several vials of blood may be drawn at one time so that a variety of tests can be performed simultaneously.


Other tests that may be performed on the blood that will aid in obtaining a sepsis diagnosis may include blood gases, platelet counts, and white blood cell counts. The blood test count will check for a condition known as acidosis, in which too much acid is released into the bloodstream. Platelet counts are typically low in patients suffering from sepsis, while white blood cell counts can be either higher or lower than normal. Sepsis may be suspected if the blood tests show diminished kidney function without a history of kidney problems.

While treatment for sepsis begins as soon as the condition is suspected, an accurate sepsis diagnosis may take 24 hours or longer. The reason for the delay in the sepsis diagnosis is a test called a blood culture. Some of the blood that is drawn for the other blood tests is sent to a lab in order to find out which type of bacteria is causing the infection. This culture will also determine which antibiotics will work the best to fight the particular type of bacteria that is present. Sepsis can, however, be fatal if not treated immediately, so a combination of antibiotics is generally used while the doctors wait on the results from the blood culture.

Once a sepsis diagnosis has been confirmed, the patient may need to remain in the hospital for several days. IV antibiotics will be delivered directly into the bloodstream through a tube inserted into a vein. Other medications may be delivered this way as well. Some patients may need to receive oxygen or other supportive care while in the hospital.



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