An American College of Chest Physicians/Society of Critical Care Medicine Consensus Conference was held in Northbrook in August 1991 with the goal of agreeing on a set of definitions that could be applied to patients with sepsis and its sequelae. New definitions were offered for some terms, while others were discarded. Broad definitions of sepsis and the systemic inflammatory response syndrome were proposed, along with detailed physiologic parameters by which a patient may be categorized. Definitions for severe sepsis, septic shock, hypotension, and multiple organ dysfunction syndrome were also offered. The use of severity scoring methods when dealing with septic patients was recommended as an adjunctive tool to assess mortality. Appropriate methods and applications for the use and testing of new therapies were recommended. The use of these terms and techniques should assist clinicians and researchers who deal with sepsis and its sequelae.