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OBJECTIVE: To determine the value of procalcitonin (PCT) as a marker of postoperative infection after cardiac surgery. DESIGN: A prospective single institution three phase study. SETTING: University cardiac surgical intensive care unit (31 beds). PATIENTS: Phase 1: To determine the normal perioperative kinetics of PCT, 20 consecutive patients undergoing elective cardiac surgery with cardiopulmonary bypass were included. Phase 2: To determine whether PCT may be useful for diagnosis of postoperative infection, 97 consecutive patients with suspected infection were included. Phase 3: To determine the ability of PCT to differentiate patients with septic shock from those with cardiogenic shock, 26 patients with postoperative circulatory failure were compared. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Phase 1: Serum samples were drawn for PCT determination after induction of anesthesia (baseline), at the end of surgery, and daily until postoperative day (POD) 8. Baseline serum PCT concentration was 0.17 +/- 0.08 ng/mL (mean +/- SD). Serum PCT increased after cardiac surgery with a peak on POD 1 (1.08 +/- 1.36). Serum PCT returned to normal range on POD 3 and remained stable thereafter. Phase 2: In patients with suspected infection, serum PCT was measured at the same time of C-reactive protein (CRP) and bacteriologic samples. Among the 97 included patients, 54 were infected with pneumonia (n = 17), bacteremia (n = 16), mediastinitis (n = 9), or septic shock (n = 12). In the 43 remaining patients, infection was excluded by microbiological examinations. In noninfected patients, serum PCT concentration was 0.41 +/- 0.36 ng/mL (range, 0.08-1.67 ng/mL). Serum PCT concentration was markedly higher in patients with septic shock (96.98 +/- 119.61 ng/mL). Moderate increase in serum PCT concentration occurred during pneumonia (4.85 +/-3.31 ng/mL) and bacteremia (3.57 +/- 2.98 ng/mL). Serum PCT concentration remained low during mediastinitis (0.80 +/- 0.58 ng/mL). Five patients with mediastinitis, two patients with bacteremia, and one patient with pneumonia had serum PCT concentrations of <1 ng/mL. These eight patients were administered antibiotics previously and serum PCT was measured during a therapeutic antibiotic window. For prediction of infection by PCT, the best cutoff value was 1 ng/mL, with sensitivity 85%, specificity 95%, positive predictive value 96%, and negative predictive value 84%. Serum CRP was high in all patients without intergroup difference. For prediction of infection by CRP, a value of 50 mg/L was sensitive (84%) but poorly specific (40%). Comparing the area under the receiver operating characteristic curves, PCT was better than CRP for diagnosis of postoperative sepsis (0.82 for PCT vs. 0.68 for CRP). Phase 3: Serum PCT concentration was significantly higher in patients with septic shock than in those with cardiogenic shock (96.98 +/- 119.61 ng/mL vs. 11.30 +/- 12.3 ng/mL). For discrimination between septic and cardiogenic shock, the best cutoff value was 10 ng/mL, with sensitivity of 100% and specificity of 62%. CONCLUSION: Cardiac surgery with cardiopulmonary bypass influences serum PCT concentration with a peak on POD 1. In the presence of fever, PCT is a reliable marker for diagnosis of infection after cardiac surgery, except in patients who previously received antibiotics. PCT was more relevant than CRP for diagnosis of postoperative infection. During a postoperative circulatory failure, a serum PCT concentration >10 ng/mL is highly indicative of a septic shock.


Journal article


Crit Care Med

Publication Date





3171 - 3176


Adult, Aged, C-Reactive Protein, Calcitonin, Cross Infection, Diagnosis, Differential, Female, Heart Diseases, Heart Failure, Humans, Intensive Care Units, Male, Middle Aged, Predictive Value of Tests, Prospective Studies, Protein Precursors, Shock, Cardiogenic, Shock, Septic, Surgical Wound Infection