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To quantify the accuracy of serum procalcitonin as a diagnostic test for sepsis, severe sepsis, or septic shock in adults in intensive care units or after surgery or trauma, alone and compared with C-reactive protein. To draw and compare the summary receiver operating characteristics curves for procalcitonin and C-reactive protein from the literature.MEDLINE (keywords: procalcitonin, intensive care, sepsis, postoperative sepsis, trauma); screening of the literature.Meta-analysis of all 49 published studies in medical, surgical, or polyvalent intensive care units or postoperative wards. Children, medical patients, and immunocompromised patients were excluded.Thirty-three studies fulfilled inclusion criteria (3,943 patients, 1,828 males, 922 females; mean age: 56.1 yrs; 1,825 patients with sepsis, severe sepsis, or septic shock; 1,545 with only systemic inflammatory response syndrome); eight studies could not be analyzed statistically. Global mortality rate was 29.3%.Global odds ratios for diagnosis of infection complicated by systemic inflammation were 15.7 for the 25 studies (2,966 patients) using procalcitonin (95% confidence interval, 9.1–27.1) and 5.4 for the 15 studies (1,322 patients) using C-reactive protein (95% confidence interval, 3.2–9.2). The summary receiver operating characteristics curve for procalcitonin was better than for C-reactive protein. In the 15 studies using both markers, the Q* value (intersection of summary receiver operating characteristics curve with the diagonal line where sensitivity equals specificity) was significantly higher for procalcitonin than for C-reactive protein (0.78 vs. 0.71, p = .02), the former test showing better accuracy.Procalcitonin represents a good biological diagnostic marker for sepsis, severe sepsis, or septic shock, difficult diagnoses in critically ill patients. Procalcitonin is superior to C-reactive protein. Procalcitonin should be included in diagnostic guidelines for sepsis and in clinical practice in intensive care units.