Background and objectives: Glucocorticoids have been shown to improve survival when used in patients with septic shock. The aim of this study was to analyse the role of glucocorticoids in decreasing mortality in acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) both in the acute and the fibroproliferative phases.
Methods: We searched the MEDLINE database for relevant studies published between 1980 and 2006, and included studies if the study design was a randomized controlled trial or observational study (comparing historical controls). The study population included patients with ARDS treated with glucocorticoids. We calculated the odds ratio and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for the outcome of mortality.
Results: Six trials met the inclusion criteria; three investigated the role of steroids in early stage disease (n = 300) and three investigated the role of steroids in late stage disease (n = 235). The odds of glucocorticoids decreasing mortality in patients with early ARDS were 0.57 (95% CI: 0.25-1.32) with a number needed to treat of 10 for benefit (818 harm to 5 benefit) whereas the odds of glucocorticoids decreasing mortality in patients with late ARDS was 0.58 (95% CI: 0.22-1.53) with a number needed to treat of 15 for harm (6 harm to 21 benefit). However, there was significant heterogeneity.
Conclusions: Current evidence does not support a role for corticosteroids in the management of ARDS in either the early or late stages of the disease. More research is required to establish the role of steroids in specific subgroups of patients with severe sepsis and early ARDS who have relative adrenal insufficiency and patients with late ARDS 7-14 days after the onset of disease.