When should I consider systemic corticosteroids in my patient with Covid-19?

As of July 30, 2020, The National Institute of Health (NIH) Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Guidelines Panel recommends using dexamethasone 6 mg per day for up to 10 days for the treatment of Covid-19 in patients who are mechanically ventilated (“Strong” recommendation based on 1 or more randomized trials) with a a less strong recommendation (“Moderate”) in those who require supplemental oxygen but who are not mechanically ventilated.1

These recommendations appear to primarily stem from a multicenter, open label randomized controlled trial of dexamethasone vs standard of care in hospitalized patients in United Kingdom, 2 with treated group receiving dexamethasone 6 mg IV or orally daily for 10 days or until hospital discharge (whichever came first).  Mortality at 28 days was significantly lower among patients on mechanical ventilation who received dexamethasone (29.3% vs 41.4%, rate ratio 0.64, 95% CI, 0.51-0.81) and in those receiving supplemental oxygen without mechanical ventilation (23.3% vs 26.2%). The risk of progression to invasive mechanical ventilation was also lower in the dexamethasone group. No significant difference in mortality was found in patients who did not require supplemental oxygen. 

Retrospective and case series studies have reported conflicting results on the efficacy of corticosteroid for the treatment of covid-19. 3-10 That’s why despite its limitations (open label, wide range of 02 supplementation, few patients receiving remdesvir), the randomized controlled trial discussed above should guide our decision making on the use of corticosteroids in patients with Covid-19.

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  1. NIH. The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Guidelines. https://www.covid19treatmentguidelines.nih.gov/immune-based-therapy/immunomodulators/corticosteroids/ Accessed August 6, 2020.
  2. Horby P, Lim WS, Emberson JR, et al. Dexamethasone in hospitalized patients with Covid-19—Preliminary report. N Engl J Med 2020; July 17, 2020. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2021436
  3. Keller MJ, Kitsis EA, Arora S, et al. Effect of systemic glucocorticoids on mortality or mechanical ventilation in patients with COVID-19. J Hosp Med 2020;15(8):489-493. https://www.journalofhospitalmedicine.com/jhospmed/article/225402/hospital-medicine/effect-systemic-glucocorticoidsmortalityor-mechanical
  4. Wang Y, Jiang W, He Q, et al. A retrospective cohort study of methylprednisolone therapy in severe patients with COVID-19 pneumonia. Signal Transduct Target Ther. 2020;5(1):57. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32341331
  5. Wu C, Chen X, Cai Y, et al. Risk factors associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome and death in patients with coronavirus disease 2019 pneumonia in Wuhan, China. JAMA Intern Med. 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32167524
  6. Corral L, Bahamonde A, Arnaiz delas Revillas F, et al. GLUCOCOVID: A controlled trial of methylprednisolone in adults hospitalized with COVID-19 pneumonia. medRxiv. 2020. https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.06.17.20133579v1
  7. Fadel R, Morrison AR, Vahia A, et al. Early short course corticosteroids in hospitalized patients with COVID-19. Clin Infect Dis. 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32427279
  8. Fernandez Cruz A, Ruiz-Antoran B, Munoz Gomez A, et al. Impact of glucocorticoid treatment in SARS-CoV-2 infection mortality: a retrospective controlled cohort study. Antimicrob Agents Chemother 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32571831
  9. Yang Z, Liu J, Zhou Y, Zhao X, Zhao Q, Liu J. The effect of corticosteroid treatment on patients with coronavirus infection: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Infect. 2020;81(1):e13-e20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32283144

 10. Lu X, Chen T, Wang Y, Wang J, Yan F. Adjuvant corticosteroid therapy for critically ill patients with COVID-19. Crit Care. 2020;24(1):241. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32430057

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Catalyst, Harvard University, its affiliate academic healthcare centers, or its contributors. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!


When should I consider systemic corticosteroids in my patient with Covid-19?

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