Early ICU-mortality in sepsis - causes, influencing factors and variability in clinical judgement: a retrospective cohort study

Rob G. H. Driessen*, Nanon F. L. Heijnen, Riquette P. M. G. Hulsewe, Johanna W. M. Holtkamp, Bjorn Winkens, Marcel C. G. van de Poll, Iwan C. C. van der Horst, Dennis C. J. J. Bergmans, Ronny M. Schnabel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background Sepsis is a global health care problem with a high mortality. Early death seems common; however, data are sparse. The objective of the present study was to report causes and influencing factors of early death in sepsis and septic shock. Methods All septic ICU patients were included from 2012 to 2017. Early death was predefined as occurring within 48 h. Causes and factors leading up to death were reported by a panel of four intensivists, independently reviewing the medical files. Following factors were assessed: (1) delay in ICU admission; (2) futile ICU treatment; (3) missed diagnosis or inadequate treatment on the ICU. Fleiss kappa was used to assess inter-observer agreement. Results 1107 septic patients (APACHE II score 25 +/- 8) were included. 344 patients died of which 97 (28%) within 48 h. In 33% an autopsy was performed. Primary causes of early death were multiple organ failure, mesenteric ischaemia and death after cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Delay in ICU admission was scored in 32% of early deaths with slight agreement (kappa = 0.180), futile ICU treatment in 29% with moderate agreement (kappa = 0.415) and missed diagnosis or treatment in 7% of cases with slight agreement (kappa = 0.122). Conclusions Early death after ICU admission in sepsis is common and primarily caused by multiple organ failure, mesenteric ischaemia and death after unsuccessful CPR. Influencing factors were delay in ICU admission and futile ICU admission. Fleiss kappa indicates substantial variability in clinical judgement between intensivists, strengthening the necessity for shared decision making.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-68
Number of pages8
JournalInfectious Diseases
Issue number1
Early online date14 Sep 2020
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2021


  • Critical care
  • sepsis
  • septic shock
  • mortality
  • clinical judgement

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