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Sepsis (Blood Infection) (cont.)

What Tests Do Health-Care Professionals Use to Assess and Diagnose Sepsis?

In the hospital, the doctor may conduct various tests.

  • Blood work may be done by inserting a needle into a vein in the patient's hand or arm and drawing blood into several tubes. This blood may be analyzed to see if the patient has an elevation in the white blood cell counts.
  • Blood may also be sent to the lab to be placed on a medium where bacteria will grow if they are present in the blood. This is called a blood culture. Results from this test usually take over 24 hours (the time required to look for bacterial growth). Lab technicians may also look for bacteria in the blood under the microscope on slides.
  • Samples may be taken of sputum (mucus), urine, spinal fluid, or abscess contents to look for the presence of infectious organisms.
    • To obtain urine that is not contaminated and to measure the amount of urine being produced, a flexible rubber tube may be placed into the bladder (catheter).
    • Spinal fluid may be obtained from the lower back (spinal tap or lumbar puncture) to evaluate if there is an infection in the brain or fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. After the skin is cleaned and numbed, a hollow needle is placed between the bones of the spine into the canal containing the spinal cord. Because the needle is placed lower than the location where the cord ends, there is little danger of injuring the nerves of the spinal cord. When the needle is in the correct spot, the doctor will let the fluid drip into tubes. The sample of fluid is sent to the lab for testing.
    • Other tests may include a chest X-ray to look for pneumonia or a CT scan to see if there is infection in the abdomen.
      • A dye (contrast) might be injected into a vein during a CT scan to help highlight certain organs in the abdomen.
      • The CT scan is a series of X-rays taken from different angles very quickly and put together by the computer to show an image of the internal organs.
      • Usually, a radiologist reads the results and notifies the patient's doctor.
    • In the hospital, the patient may be placed on a cardiac monitor, which will show the patient's heart rate and rhythm.
    • Similarly, the patient is usually placed on a pulse oximeter which indicates the amount of oxygen in the blood.
  • If the patient is a young child who is ill and being evaluated for sepsis, he or she will get similar tests and treatment.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/15/2016

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