Special Article

Intensive Care Medicine

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 17-60

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Surviving Sepsis Campaign: International guidelines for management of severe sepsis and septic shock: 2008

  • R. Phillip DellingerAffiliated withCooper University Hospital Email author 
  • , Mitchell M. LevyAffiliated withRhode Island Hospital
  • , Jean M. CarletAffiliated withHospital Saint-Joseph
  • , Julian BionAffiliated withBirmingham University
  • , Margaret M. ParkerAffiliated withSUNY at Stony Brook
  • , Roman JaeschkeAffiliated withMcMaster University
  • , Konrad ReinhartAffiliated withFriedrich-Schiller-University of Jena
  • , Derek C. AngusAffiliated withUniversity of Pittsburgh
  • , Christian Brun-BuissonAffiliated withHopital Henri Mondor
    • , Richard BealeAffiliated withGuy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital Trust
    • , Thierry CalandraAffiliated withCentre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois
    • , Jean-Francois DhainautAffiliated withFrench Agency for Evaluation of Research and Higher Education
    • , Herwig GerlachAffiliated withVivantes-Klinikum Neukoelln
    • , Maurene HarveyAffiliated withConsultants in Critical Care, Inc.
    • , John J. MariniAffiliated withUniversity of Minnesota
    • , John MarshallAffiliated withSt. Michael’s Hospital
    • , Marco RanieriAffiliated withUniversità di Torino
    • , Graham RamsayAffiliated withWest Hertfordshire Health Trust
    • , Jonathan SevranskyAffiliated withThe Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
    • , B. Taylor ThompsonAffiliated withMassachusetts General Hospital
    • , Sean TownsendAffiliated withRhode Island Hospital
    • , Jeffrey S. VenderAffiliated withEvanston Northwestern Healthcare
    • , Janice L. ZimmermanAffiliated withThe Methodist Hospital
    • , Jean-Louis VincentAffiliated withErasme University Hospital



To provide an update to the original Surviving Sepsis Campaign clinical management guidelines, “Surviving Sepsis Campaign guidelines for management of severe sepsis and septic shock,” published in 2004.


Modified Delphi method with a consensus conference of 55 international experts, several subsequent meetings of subgroups and key individuals, teleconferences, and electronic-based discussion among subgroups and among the entire committee. This process was conducted independently of any industry funding.


We used the GRADE system to guide assessment of quality of evidence from high (A) to very low (D) and to determine the strength of recommendations. A strong recommendation [1] indicates that an intervention's desirable effects clearly outweigh its undesirable effects (risk, burden, cost), or clearly do not. Weak recommendations [2] indicate that the tradeoff between desirable and undesirable effects is less clear. The grade of strong or weak is considered of greater clinical importance than a difference in letter level of quality of evidence. In areas without complete agreement, a formal process of resolution was developed and applied. Recommendations are grouped into those directly targeting severe sepsis, recommendations targeting general care of the critically ill patient that are considered high priority in severe sepsis, and pediatric considerations.


Key recommendations, listed by category, include: early goal-directed resuscitation of the septic patient during the first 6 hrs after recognition (1C); blood cultures prior to antibiotic therapy (1C); imaging studies performed promptly to confirm potential source of infection (1C); administration of broad-spectrum antibiotic therapy within 1 hr of diagnosis of septic shock (1B) and severe sepsis without septic shock (1D); reassessment of antibiotic therapy with microbiology and clinical data to narrow coverage, when appropriate (1C); a usual 7–10 days of antibiotic therapy guided by clinical response (1D); source control with attention to the balance of risks and benefits of the chosen method (1C); administration of either crystalloid or colloid fluid resuscitation (1B); fluid challenge to restore mean circulating filling pressure (1C); reduction in rate of fluid administration with rising filing pressures and no improvement in tissue perfusion (1D); vasopressor preference for norepinephrine or dopamine to maintain an initial target of mean arterial pressure ≥ 65 mm Hg (1C); dobutamine inotropic therapy when cardiac output remains low despite fluid resuscitation and combined inotropic/vasopressor therapy (1C); stress-dose steroid therapy given only in septic shock after blood pressure is identified to be poorly responsive to fluid and vasopressor therapy (2C); recombinant activated protein C in patients with severe sepsis and clinical assessment of high risk for death (2B except 2C for post-operative patients). In the absence of tissue hypoperfusion, coronary artery disease, or acute hemorrhage, target a hemoglobin of 7–9 g/dL (1B); a low tidal volume (1B) and limitation of inspiratory plateau pressure strategy (1C) for acute lung injury (ALI)/acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS); application of at least a minimal amount of positive end-expiratory pressure in acute lung injury (1C); head of bed elevation in mechanically ventilated patients unless contraindicated (1B); avoiding routine use of pulmonary artery catheters in ALI/ARDS (1A); to decrease days of mechanical ventilation and ICU length of stay, a conservative fluid strategy for patients with established ALI/ARDS who are not in shock (1C); protocols for weaning and sedation/analgesia (1B); using either intermittent bolus sedation or continuous infusion sedation with daily interruptions or lightening (1B); avoidance of neuromuscular blockers, if at all possible (1B); institution of glycemic control (1B) targeting a blood glucose < 150 mg/dL after initial stabilization ( 2C ); equivalency of continuous veno-veno hemofiltration or intermittent hemodialysis (2B); prophylaxis for deep vein thrombosis (1A); use of stress ulcer prophylaxis to prevent upper GI bleeding using H2 blockers (1A) or proton pump inhibitors (1B); and consideration of limitation of support where appropriate (1D).

Recommendations specific to pediatric severe sepsis include: greater use of physical examination therapeutic end points (2C); dopamine as the first drug of choice for hypotension (2C); steroids only in children with suspected or proven adrenal insufficiency (2C); a recommendation against the use of recombinant activated protein C in children (1B).


There was strong agreement among a large cohort of international experts regarding many level 1 recommendations for the best current care of patients with severe sepsis. Evidenced-based recommendations regarding the acute management of sepsis and septic shock are the first step toward improved outcomes for this important group of critically ill patients.


Sepsis Severe sepsis Septic shock Sepsis syndrome Infection GRADE Guidelines Evidence-based medicine Surviving Sepsis Campaign Sepsis bundles