Glucocorticoids in central nervous system bacterial infection

Arch Neurol. 1999 Jul;56(7):796-801. doi: 10.1001/archneur.56.7.796.


Objective: To evaluate evidence-based data on adjunctive glucocorticoid therapy in central nervous system bacterial infections.

Design: A literature review of studies, particularly controlled trials, that have evaluated dexamethasone therapy for acute bacterial meningitis and glucocorticoid therapy for tuberculous meningitis.

Main outcome measures: Clinical outcomes were mortality and morbidity rates. Morbidity involved sensorineural hearing loss and other neurologic deficits (motor or behavioral disturbances, epilepsy, cranial nerve palsy, hydrocephalus, and psychomotor retardation).

Results: The evidence-based data support adjunctive dexamethasone therapy for children with Haemophilus influenzae meningitis. However, the optimal duration of therapy is not defined. Data are supportive but not conclusive that dexamethasone benefits meningitis caused by other bacterial agents and meningitis in adults. The evidence-based data are supportive but not conclusive that adjunctive glucocorticoid therapy benefits patients with tuberculous meningitis, particularly those with more severe infection.

Conclusions: Although adjunctive glucocorticoid therapy may be beneficial in both acute bacterial meningitis and more severe tuberculous meningitis, there are conclusive data only for H influenzae meningitis in children. For acute bacterial meningitis, further studies are needed to clarify the optimal duration of dexamethasone therapy (2 vs 4 days), whether this therapy should be used routinely for adults with meningitis, and whether it should be used for pathogens other than H influenzae. For tuberculous meningitis, further studies are needed to provide conclusive evidence of benefit.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dexamethasone / therapeutic use*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use*
  • Haemophilus Infections / complications
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Listeriosis / complications
  • Meningitis, Bacterial / drug therapy*
  • Meningitis, Bacterial / microbiology
  • Neisseriaceae Infections / complications
  • Streptococcal Infections / complications
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tuberculosis, Meningeal / drug therapy*


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Dexamethasone