Which symptoms of sepsis are associated with specific organ systems?

Updated: Oct 07, 2020
  • Author: Andre Kalil, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Michael R Pinsky, MD, CM, Dr(HC), FCCP, FAPS, MCCM  more...
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Localizing symptoms referable to organ systems may provide useful clues to the etiology of sepsis. Such symptoms include the following:

  • Head and neck infections – Severe headache, neck stiffness, altered mental status, earache, sore throat, sinus pain or tenderness, and cervical or submandibular lymphadenopathy

  • Chest and pulmonary infections – Cough (especially if productive), pleuritic chest pain, dyspnea, dullness on percussion, bronchial breath sounds, localized rales, or any evidence of consolidation

  • Cardiac infections – Any new murmur, especially in patients with a history of injection or intravenous (IV) drug use

  • Abdominal and gastrointestinal (GI) infections – Diarrhea, abdominal pain, abdominal distention, guarding or rebound tenderness, and rectal tenderness or swelling

  • Pelvic and genitourinary (GU) infections – Pelvic or flank pain, adnexal tenderness or masses, vaginal or urethral discharge, dysuria, frequency, and urgency

  • Bone and soft-tissue infections – Localized limb pain or tenderness, focal erythema, edema, and swollen joint, crepitus in necrotizing infections, and joint effusions

  • Skin infections – Petechiae, purpura, erythema, ulceration, bullous formation, and fluctuance

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