What is the role of corticosteroids (such as dexamethasone) in the treatment of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?

Updated: Apr 30, 2021
  • Author: David J Cennimo, MD, FAAP, FACP, AAHIVS; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
  • Print
Answer

The UK RECOVERY trial assessed the mortality rate at day 28 in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 who received low-dose dexamethasone 6 mg PO or IV daily for 10 days added to usual care. Patients were assigned to receive dexamethasone (n = 2104) plus usual care or usual care alone (n = 4321). Overall, 482 patients (22.9%) in the dexamethasone group and 1110 patients (25.7%) in the usual care group died within 28 days after randomization (P< 0.001). In the dexamethasone group, the incidence of death was lower than the usual care group among patients receiving invasive mechanical ventilation (29.3% vs 41.4%) and among those receiving oxygen without invasive mechanical ventilation (23.3% vs 26.2%), but not among those who were receiving no respiratory support at randomization (17.8% vs 14%). [193]

Corticosteroids are not generally recommended for treatment of viral pneumonia. [194] The benefit of corticosteroids in septic shock results from tempering the host immune response to bacterial toxin release. The incidence of shock in patients with COVID-19 is relatively low (5% of cases). It is more likely to produce cardiogenic shock from increased work of the heart need to distribute oxygenated blood supply and thoracic pressure from ventilation. Corticosteroids can induce harm through immunosuppressant effects during the treatment of infection and have failed to provide a benefit in other viral epidemics, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection, influenza infection, SARS, and MERS. [195]

Early guidelines for management of critically ill adults with COVID-19 specified when to use low-dose corticosteroids and when to refrain from using corticosteroids. The recommendations depended on the precise clinical situation (eg, refractory shock, mechanically ventilated patients with ARDS); however, these particular recommendations were based on evidence listed as weak. [196] The results from the RECOVERY trial in June 2020 provided evidence for clinicians to consider when low-dose corticosteroids would be beneficial. [193]

Several trials examining use of corticosteroids for COVID-19 were halted following publication of the RECOVERY trial results; however, a prospective meta-analysis from the WHO rapid evidence appraisal for COVID-19 therapies (REACT) pooled data from 7 trials (eg, RECOVERY, REMAP-CAP, CoDEX, CAP COVID) that totaled 1703 patients (678 received corticosteroids and 1025 received usual care or placebo). An association between corticosteroids and reduced mortality was similar for dexamethasone and hydrocortisone, suggesting the benefit is a general class effect of glucocorticoids. The 28-day mortality rate, the primary outcome, was significantly lower among corticosteroid users (32% absolute mortality for corticosteroids vs 40% assumed mortality for controls). [197] An accompanying editorial addresses the unanswered questions regarding these studies. [198]   

WHO guidelines for use of dexamethasone (6 mg IV or oral) or hydrocortisone (50 mg IV every 8 hours) for 7-10 days in the most seriously ill patients coincides with publication of the meta-analysis. [199]   


Did this answer your question?
Additional feedback? (Optional)
Thank you for your feedback!