Corticosteroids for aneurysmal subarachnoid haemorrhage and primary intracerebral haemorrhage

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Jul 20;(3):CD004583. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004583.pub2.


Background: Corticosteroids, particularly dexamethasone, are commonly used for treatments in patients with subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH) and primary intracerebral haemorrhage (PICH) despite the lack of evidence.

Objectives: This review aimed: (1) to determine whether corticosteroid therapy reduces the proportion of patients who die or have a poor outcome at one to six months after the onset of SAH or PICH; (2) to determine whether corticosteroid therapy reduces the frequency of delayed cerebral ischaemia (DCI) in patients with SAH; (3) to determine the frequency of adverse effects of corticosteroid therapy in patients with SAH or PICH within six months of the onset of the event.

Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Stroke Group Trials Register (last searched November 2003). In addition, we searched MEDLINE (1966 to March 2004) and EMBASE (1980 to March 2004), and searched reference lists of relevant studies identified. We also made an attempt to identify any relevant ongoing and published or unpublished studies by contacting trialists and pharmaceutical companies.

Selection criteria: We sought to identify all randomised or quasi-randomised clinical trials of corticosteroid therapy, in patients with SAH or PICH, that have a placebo or standard strategy arm as control. Patients of any age and either gender with clinically (bed-side) diagnosed PICH and cerebrospinal fluid documented SAH were included in the analysis. The data were analysed both separately and combined for computed tomography (CT)/magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)/autopsy/angiography verified patients.

Data collection and analysis: Data extracted from eligible clinical trials included: (1) death and poor outcome (death, severe disability, or vegetative state) within the first one to six months of the event onset (primary outcomes); (2) development of delayed cerebral ischaemia (as defined by the trialists) in patients with SAH; and (3) adverse effects of the treatment during the scheduled treatment or follow-up period (secondary outcomes). A pooled estimate of the effect size was computed, and the test for heterogeneity between trial results was carried out using The Cochrane Collaboration's Review Manager software, RevMan 4.2. Intention-to-treat analysis was carried out whenever possible.

Main results: Eight trials that fulfilled the eligibility criteria were identified, with a total of 256 randomised patients in three SAH trials, and 206 patients in five PICH trials. The studies differed substantially with regard to the study populations and drugs, and methodological quality. The number of patients allocated to either hydrocortisone or fludrocortisone acetate treatment in patients with SAH, or to dexamethasone treatment in patients with PICH, was too small to make any definitive conclusions (confidence intervals were wide for any of the outcome estimates).

Authors' conclusions: Overall, there is no evidence of a beneficial or adverse effect of corticosteroids in patients with either SAH or PICH. Confidence intervals are wide and include clinically significant effects in both directions.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / drug therapy*
  • Dexamethasone / therapeutic use
  • Fludrocortisone / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / therapeutic use
  • Intracranial Aneurysm / complications*
  • Methylprednisolone / therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage / drug therapy


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Dexamethasone
  • Fludrocortisone
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Methylprednisolone