Diagnostic Challenges in Sepsis

Curr Infect Dis Rep. 2021;23(12):22. doi: 10.1007/s11908-021-00765-y. Epub 2021 Oct 25.


Purpose of review: Sepsis is a leading cause of death worldwide. Groundbreaking international collaborative efforts have culminated in the widely accepted surviving sepsis guidelines, with iterative improvements in management strategies and definitions providing important advances in care for patients. Key to the diagnosis of sepsis is identification of infection, and whilst the diagnostic criteria for sepsis is now clear, the diagnosis of infection remains a challenge and there is often discordance between clinician assessments for infection.

Recent findings: We review the utility of common biochemical, microbiological and radiological tools employed by clinicians to diagnose infection and explore the difficulty of making a diagnosis of infection in severe inflammatory states through illustrative case reports. Finally, we discuss some of the novel and emerging approaches in diagnosis of infection and sepsis.

Summary: While prompt diagnosis and treatment of sepsis is essential to improve outcomes in sepsis, there remains no single tool to reliably identify or exclude infection. This contributes to unnecessary antimicrobial use that is harmful to individuals and populations. There is therefore a pressing need for novel solutions. Machine learning approaches using multiple diagnostic and clinical inputs may offer a potential solution but as yet these approaches remain experimental.

Keywords: Critical care; Diagnosis; Infection; Sepsis.

Publication types

  • Review