Background: A systematic review of the evidence pertaining to methylprednisolone infusion following acute spinal cord injury was conducted in order to address the persistent confusion about the utility of this treatment.
Methods: A committee of neurosurgical and orthopedic spine specialists, emergency physicians and physiatrists engaged in active clinical practice conducted an electronic database search for articles about acute spinal cord injuries and steroids, from January 1, 1966 to April 2001, that was supplemented by a manual search of reference lists, requests for unpublished additional information, translations of foreign language references and study protocols from the author of a Cochrane systematic review and Pharmacia Inc. The evidence was graded and recommendations were developed by consensus.
Results: One hundred and fifty-seven citations that specifically addressed spinal cord injuries and methylprednisolone were retrieved and 64 reviewed. Recommendations were based on one Cochrane systematic review, six Level I clinical studies and seven Level II clinical studies that addressed changes in neurological function and complications following methylprednisolone therapy.
Conclusions: There is insufficient evidence to support the use of high-dose methylprednisolone within eight hours following an acute closed spinal cord injury as a treatment standard or as a guideline for treatment. Methylprednisolone, prescribed as a bolus intravenous infusion of 30 mg per kilogram of body weight over fifteen minutes within eight hours of closed spinal cord injury, followed 45 minutes later by an infusion of 5.4 mg per kilogram of body weight per hour for 23 hours, is only a treatment option for which there is weak clinical evidence (Level I- to II-1). There is insufficient evidence to support extending methylprednisolone infusion beyond 23 hours if chosen as a treatment option.