Sepsis is a principal cause of death in critical care units worldwide and consumes considerable healthcare resources. The aim of our study was to determine whether the early cytokine profile can discriminate between Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteraemia (GPB and GNB, respectively) and to assess the prognostic value regarding outcome in critically ill patients with severe abdominal sepsis. The outcome measure was hospital mortality. Blood samples were obtained from 165 adult patients with confirmed severe abdominal sepsis. Levels of the proinflammatory mediators TNF-α, IL-8, IL-12 and IFN-γ and the anti-inflammatory mediators IL-1ra, IL-4, IL-10 and TGF-β1 were determined and correlated with the nature of the bacteria isolated from the blood culture and outcome. The cytokine profile in our study indicated that the TNF-α levels were 2-fold, IL-8 were 3.3-fold, IFN-γ were 13-fold, IL-1ra were 1.05-fold, IL-4 were 1.4-fold and IL-10 were 1.83-fold higher in the GNB group compared with the GPB group. The TNF-α levels were 4.7-fold, IL-8 were 4.6-fold, IL-1ra were 1.5-fold and IL-10 were 3.3-fold higher in the non-survivors compared with the survivors.