Characteristics, treatment and outcomes for all emergency department patients fulfilling criteria for septic shock: a prospective observational study

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Most published data on emergency department (ED) patients with septic shock have been generated from studies examining the effect of early protocolised resuscitation in selected cohorts. Consequently, these data do not generally represent patients falling outside trial inclusion criteria or judged unsuitable for aggressive treatment. Our aim was to determine the characteristics, treatment and outcomes for all ED patients fulfilling the criteria for septic shock.


Septic shock patients were identified from a prospective database of consecutive ED patients admitted with infection. Descriptive data were compared with those from previous studies and associations between ED processes of care and mortality were determined.


A total of 399 septic shock patients were identified, with a 30-day mortality of 19.5%. The median ED length of stay was 9.2 h. Rates of vasopressor use (22.6%) and ICU admission (37.3%) were low. Subgroups fulfilling the lactate criteria alone, hypotension criteria alone and both criteria represented distinct shock phenotypes with increasing severity of illness and mortality. Mortality for patients with limitations to treatment determined in the ED was 65.6% and 6.1% for those without limitations. Greater volumes of intravenous fluid and early vasopressor therapy for appropriate patients were associated with survival.


Median length of stay over 9 hours may have enhanced identification of patients with limitations to treatment and fluid responders, reducing invasive therapies and ICU admissions. Distinct shock phenotypes were apparent, with implications for revision of septic shock definitions and future trial design. Liberal fluids and early vasopressor use in appropriate patients were associated with survival.

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