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

Updated: Jul 01, 2020
  • Author: Medscape Drugs & Diseases; more...
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The UK RECOVERY trial showed that low-dose dexamethasone (6 mg PO or IV daily for 10 days) randomized to 2104 patients reduced deaths by 35% in ventilated patients (P = 0.0003) and by 20% in other patients receiving oxygen only (P = 0.0021) compared with patients who received standard of care (n = 4321). No benefit was seen in patients who did not require respiratory intervention (P = 0.14). [11]

Corticosteroids are not generally recommended for treatment of COVID-19 or any viral pneumonia. [62] 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. [63]

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. [64] The results from the RECOVERY trial in June 2020 provided evidence for clinicians to consider when low-dose corticosteroids would be beneficial. [11]

A study describing clinical outcomes of patients diagnosed with COVID-19 was conducted in Wuhan China (N = 201). Eighty-four patients (41.8%) developed ARDS, and of those, 44 (52.4%) died. Among patients with ARDS, treatment with methylprednisolone decreased the risk of death (HR, 0.38; 95% CI, 0.20-0.72). [65]

Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit implemented a protocol on March 20, 2020, using early, short-course, methylprednisolone 0.5-1 mg/kg/day divided in 2 IV doses for 3 days in patients with moderate-to-severe COVID-19. Outcomes of pre- and post-corticosteroid groups were evaluated. A composite endpoint of escalation of care from ward to ICU, new requirement for mechanical ventilation, or mortality was the primary outcome measure. All patients had at least 14 days of follow-up. They analyzed 213 eligible patients, 81 (38%) and 132 (62%) in pre-and post-corticosteroid groups, respectively. The composite endpoint occurred at a significantly lower rate in the post-corticosteroid group than in the pre-corticosteroid group (34.9% vs 54.3%; P = 0.005). This treatment effect was observed within each individual component of the composite endpoint. A significant reduction in median hospital length of stay was observed in the post-corticosteroid group (8 vs 5 days; P< 0.001). [66]

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