Low-dose hydrocortisone improves shock reversal and reduces cytokine levels in early hyperdynamic septic shock

Crit Care Med. 2005 Nov;33(11):2457-64. doi: 10.1097/01.ccm.0000186370.78639.23.


Objectives: To investigate the effect of low-dose hydrocortisone on time to shock reversal, the cytokine profile, and its relation to adrenal function in patients with early septic shock.

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

Setting: Medical intensive care unit of a university hospital.

Patients: Forty-one consecutive patients with early hyperdynamic septic shock.

Interventions: After inclusion and a short adrenocorticotropic hormone test, all patients were randomized to receive either low-dose hydrocortisone (50-mg bolus followed by a continuous infusion of 0.18 mg/kg body of weight/hr) or matching placebo. After shock reversal, the dose was reduced to 0.06 mg/kg/hr and afterward slowly tapered. Severity of illness was estimated using Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II score and Sequential Organ Failure Assessment score.

Measurements and main results: Time to cessation of vasopressor support (primary end point) was significantly shorter in hydrocortisone-treated patients compared with placebo (53 hrs vs. 120 hrs, p < .02). This effect was more profound in patients with impaired adrenal reserve. Irrespective of endogenous steroid production, cytokine production was reduced in the treatment group with lower plasma levels of interleukin-6 and a diminished ex vivo lipopolysaccharide-stimulated interleukin-1 and interleukin-6 production. Interleukin-10 levels were unaltered. Adverse events were not more frequent in the treatment group.

Conclusions: Treatment with low-dose hydrocortisone accelerates shock reversal in early hyperdynamic septic shock. This was accompanied by reduced production of proinflammatory cytokines, suggesting both hemodynamic and immunomodulatory effects of steroid treatment. Hemodynamic improvement seemed to be related to endogenous cortisol levels, whereas immune effects appeared to be independent of adrenal reserve.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Blood Pressure / drug effects
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Cytokines / blood*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / administration & dosage
  • Hydrocortisone / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Shock, Septic / blood
  • Shock, Septic / classification
  • Shock, Septic / drug therapy*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Hydrocortisone