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Steroids in critical illness 

Steroids in critical illness
Steroids in critical illness

Didier Keh

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date: 16 May 2022

The benefit of prolonged application of moderate-dose corticosteroids in systemic inflammatory diseases remains controversial. In critical illness, the endogenous cortisol effect may become insufficient due to adrenal dysfunction and corticosteroid resistance to counterbalance an exaggerated and protracted inflammatory response, which has been termed ‘critical illness-related corticosteroid insufficiency’ (CIRCI). There is evidence that moderate-dose hydrocortisone (200–300 mg/day) significantly fastens shock reversal in patients with septic shock, but may improve survival probably only in patients with high risk of death. Thus, therapy should be considered only in refractory shock with poor response to fluid administration and vasopressor therapy. The indication should be based on clinical judgement and not on cortisol measurement. The application prolonged of moderate-dose methylprednisolone (1 mg/kg/day) was found to be most effective in early acute respiratory distress syndrome, and associated with improved lung function, reduction of mechanical ventilation, and faster discharge from the ICU, but a survival benefit was found only in pooled data, including cohort studies. A continuous infusion and weaning of corticosteroids may be preferable to bolus applications and abrupt withdrawal to avoid side effects such as rebound of inflammation and shock, glucose variability, or respiratory failure. There is currently no evidence that prolonged application of moderate-dose corticosteroids increase the risk of secondary infections or muscle weakness, but infection surveillance should be implemented and combination with muscle relaxants be avoided.

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