Role of corticosteroids in the management of acute respiratory distress syndrome

Clin Ther. 2008 May;30(5):787-99. doi: 10.1016/j.clinthera.2008.05.012.


Background: Evidence exploring the use of corticosteroids for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) has targeted various stages of disease progression, from preventing ARDS in high-risk patients to halting disease evolution once ARDS has developed.

Objective: The aim of this review was to evaluate randomized, controlled trials describing the role of corticosteroids in preventing and treating ARDS.

Methods: English-language randomized, controlled trials were identified using MEDLINE via PubMed and EMBASE searches (key terms: acute respiratory distress syndrome, acute lung injury, and corticosteroids; years: 1968-January 2008).

Results: A total of 10 trials were found and included in this analysis. Trials describing the role of high-dose corticosteroids compared with controls in preventing ARDS found no benefit, with the range of occurrence of ARDS in at-risk populations from 14% to 64% and absolute increases in mortality from 4% to 31%. Conflicting evidence was found for treating late-phase ARDS with corticosteroids, with 13% hospital mortality among patients receiving corticosteroids versus 63% with controls (P = 0.03) in one small study, but no significant difference was found when evaluating 60-day mortality (corticosteroid group, 29.2% vs control, 28.6%) in another investigation. The use of high-dose corticosteroids for the treatment of early phase ARDS was not associated with significant differences in 45-day mortality (methylprednisolone, 60% vs control, 63%). However, one trial found that methylprednisolone taper for early ARDS was associated with significant improvement in lung function or extubation (69.8% vs 35.7%; P = 0.002), fewer days on mechanical ventilation (median, 5.0 vs 9.5; P = 0.002), higher intensive care unit survival (79.4% vs 57.4%; P = 0.03), but similar rates of hospital survival (methylprednisolone, 76.2% vs control, 57.1%; P = NS).

Conclusions: Data from clinical trials did not support the use of short-course, high-dose corticosteroids for preventing ARDS or for the treatment of early ARDS. Longer-course corticosteroids have not conclusively been associated with improved survival in the treatment of late-phase ARDS but have provided some benefits in other markers of disease severity in this setting and in early phase ARDS. Published trials support the administration of low- to moderate-dose corticosteroids in the treatment of early (<7 days) and late-phase (days 7\2-14) ARDS, but this evidence is controversial.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / administration & dosage
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Time Factors


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones