Stress doses of hydrocortisone reverse hyperdynamic septic shock: a prospective, randomized, double-blind, single-center study

Crit Care Med. 1999 Apr;27(4):723-32. doi: 10.1097/00003246-199904000-00025.


Objective: To investigate the effects of stress doses of hydrocortisone on the duration of vasopressor therapy in human septic shock.

Design: Prospective, randomized, double-blind, single-center study.

Setting: Twenty-bed multidisciplinary intensive care unit in a 1400-bed university hospital.

Patients: Forty consecutive patients who met the ACCP/SCCM criteria for septic shock. An additional criterion for inclusion in the study was vasopressor support and high-output circulatory failure with a cardiac index of >4 L/min/m2 after fluid resuscitation (pulmonary capillary wedge pressure: 12-15 mm Hg) and without the use of positive inotropes such as dobutamine or dopexamine. The primary study end point was the time to cessation of vasopressor support (norepinephrine or epinephrine in any dose, dopamine > or = 6 microg/kg/min). Secondary study end points were the evolution of hemodynamics and the multiple organ dysfunction syndrome (MODS). The severity of illness at recruitment was graded using the Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II and the Simplified Acute Physiology Score II scoring systems. MODS was described by the Sepsis-related Organ Failure Assessment score.

Interventions: All eligible patients were prospectively randomized to receive either stress doses of hydrocortisone or placebo. Hydrocortisone was started with a loading dose of 100 mg given within 30 mins and followed by a continuous infusion of 0.18 mg/ kg/hr. When septic shock had been reversed, the dose of hydrocortisone was reduced to 0.08 mg/kg/hr. This dose was kept constant for 6 days. As soon as the underlying infection had been treated successfully or sodium serum concentrations had increased to >155 mmol/L, the hydrocortisone infusion was tapered in steps of 24 mg/day. Physiologic saline solution was the placebo.

Measurements and main results: Hemodynamic and oxygen-derived variables were measured at previously defined time points over a study period of 5 days. Relevant clinical and laboratory measurements were registered for a study period of 14 days to assess the evolution of organ dysfunction. Baseline data at recruitment did not differ between the two groups. Shock reversal was achieved in 18 of the 20 patients treated with hydrocortisone vs. 16 of the 20 patients treated with placebo. Hydrocortisone significantly reduced the time to cessation of vasopressor support. The median time of vasopressor support was 2 days (1st and 3rd Quartiles, 1 and 6 days) in the hydrocortisone-treated group and 7 days (1st and 3rd Quartiles, 3 and 19 days) in the placebo group (p = .005 Breslow test). There was a trend to earlier resolution of the organ dysfunction syndrome in the hydrocortisone group.

Conclusions: Infusion of stress doses of hydrocortisone reduced the time to cessation of vasopressor therapy in human septic shock. This was associated with a trend to earlier resolution of sepsis-induced organ dysfunctions. Overall shock reversal and mortality were not significantly different between the groups in this low-sized single-center study.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology
  • Cardiotonic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Hemodynamics / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / administration & dosage*
  • Hydrocortisone / pharmacology
  • Infusions, Intravenous
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Shock, Septic / drug therapy*
  • Shock, Septic / mortality
  • Shock, Septic / physiopathology
  • Survival Analysis
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Cardiotonic Agents
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents
  • Hydrocortisone