Which medications in the drug class Corticosteroids are used in the treatment of Septic Shock?

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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Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory agents. They may maintain vascular tone in states of shock. These agents are most likely to be beneficial if therapy is initiated within 8 hours of the onset of severe septic shock, but no consistent proof of increased survival outcomes have been seen in clinical trials.

Hydrocortisone (A-Hydrocort, Solu-Cortef)

Endogenous cortisol is a stress hormone that acts in part to maintain vascular tone in states of shock. Some evidence suggests that exogenous hydrocortisone administration may increase mean arterial pressure and improve outcomes in patients with septic shock who have persistent hypotension despite adequate crystalloid resuscitation and vasopressor support.


Dexamethasone has many pharmacologic benefits, but it also has significant adverse effects. This agent stabilizes cell and lysosomal membranes, increases surfactant synthesis, increases serum vitamin A concentration, and inhibits prostaglandin and proinflammatory cytokines (eg, tumor necrosis factor [TNF]-α, interleukin [IL]-6, IL-2, and interferon gamma). The inhibition of chemotactic factors and factors that increase capillary permeability hinders recruitment of inflammatory cells into affected areas.

Dexamethasone suppresses lymphocyte proliferation through direct cytolysis, and it inhibits mitosis. It breaks down granulocyte aggregates and improves pulmonary microcirculation. Adverse effects include hyperglycemia, hypertension, weight loss, gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding or perforation, cerebral palsy, adrenal suppression, and death. Most of the adverse effects of corticosteroids are dose- or duration-dependent.

Dexamethasone is readily absorbed via the GI tract and metabolized in the liver. Inactive metabolites are excreted via the kidneys. It lacks the salt-retaining property of hydrocortisone. Patients can be switched from an IV to PO regimen in a 1:1 ratio.

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