Dexamethasone in adults with community-acquired bacterial meningitis

Drugs. 2006;66(4):415-27. doi: 10.2165/00003495-200666040-00002.


Bacterial meningitis in adults is a severe disease with high fatality and morbidity rates. Experimental studies have shown that the inflammatory response in the subarachnoid space is associated with an unfavourable outcome. In these experiments, corticosteroids, and in particular dexamethasone, were able to reduce the inflammatory cascades in the subarachnoid space. The use of corticosteroids as adjunctive therapy in adults with bacterial meningitis has been evaluated in six studies, performed over a time period of 40 years. Most studies on adjunctive dexamethasone therapy in adults with bacterial meningitis were limited by methodological flaws. In 2002, a study with sufficient statistical power to show significant differences was published. This European Dexamethasone Study showed that adjunctive dexamethasone therapy reduced the rate of unfavourable outcomes in adults with bacterial meningitis from 25% to 15%. In this study, adjunctive treatment with dexamethasone was given before or with the first dose of antibacterials, without serious adverse effects. A quantitative review showed a consistent beneficial effect of dexamethasone on mortality and a borderline statistical beneficial effect on neurological sequelae. On the basis of the available evidence, adjunctive dexamethasone therapy should be initiated before or with the first dose of antibacterials and continued for 4 days in all adults with suspected or proven bacterial meningitis, regardless of bacterial aetiology. In patients with both meningitis and septic shock, dexamethasone therapy cannot be unequivocally recommended, but the use of lower doses seems reasonable at present. Since prompt use of dexamethasone and appropriate antibacterials improves the prognosis of adults with bacterial meningitis, hospitals will require protocols to include dexamethasone with the initial antibacterial therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Community-Acquired Infections / drug therapy
  • Community-Acquired Infections / epidemiology
  • Community-Acquired Infections / physiopathology
  • Dexamethasone / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Meningitis, Bacterial / drug therapy*
  • Meningitis, Bacterial / epidemiology
  • Meningitis, Bacterial / physiopathology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Dexamethasone