UMEM Educational Pearls

Lactate is commonly used in the adult ED when evaluating septic patients, but there is a lack of literature validating its use in the pediatric ED.  Pediatric studies have suggested that in the ICU population, elevated lactate is a predictor of mortality and may be the earliest marker of death.
A retrospective chart review over a 1 year period showed that one elevated serum lactate correlated with increased pulse, respiratory rate, white blood cell count and platelets.  Serum lactate had a negative correlation with BUN, serum bicarbinate and age.  Elevated lactate levels were higher for admitted patients. However, the mean serum lacate level was not statistically different between those diagnosed with sepsis and those that were not.
The study included 289 patients less then 18 years who had both blood cultures and lactate drawn.  This community hospital had a sepsis protocol in place that automatically ordered a lactate with blood cultures.  Only previously healthy children were included.
The study is limited by its small sample size and overall low lactate levels.  Despite having a protocol in place, only 39% of patients who had blood cultures drawn had lactate levels available for analysis.  The mean serum lacate in this study was 2.04 mM indicating that the study population may not have been sick enough to determine mortality implications.  There were no serial measurements.

Bottom line:  Consider measuring serum lacate in your pediatric patient with suspected sepsis.  Pediatric ICU literature does suggest that an serum lactate as low as 3mM is associated with an increased mortality in the ICU.


Reed et al.  Serum Lactate as a Screening Tool and Predictor of Outcome in Pediatric Patients Presenting to the Emergency Department With Suspected Infection.  Pediatric Emergency Care.  2013; Vol 29: 787-791.