Objective: To determine the requirement for perioperative supplemental (stress) doses of corticosteroids in patients receiving long-term corticosteroid therapy and undergoing a surgical procedure. Corticosteroids are among the most commonly prescribed medications and will predictably result in suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis with long-term use. Patients receiving therapeutic dosages of corticosteroids frequently require surgery; these patients are almost universally treated with stress doses of corticosteroids during the perioperative period.
Data sources: MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Register of Controlled Trials, and citation review of relevant primary and review articles.
Study selection: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing stress doses of corticosteroids with placebo and cohort studies that followed up patients after surgery in which perioperative stress doses of corticosteroids were not administered.
Data extraction: Data were abstracted on the study design, study size, study setting, patient population, dosage and duration of previous corticosteroid therapy, adrenal function testing results, surgical intervention, corticosteroid dosing regimen, intraoperative and postoperative hemodynamic profile, and incidence of adrenal crisis.
Data synthesis: Nine studies met our inclusion criteria, including 2 RCTs and 7 cohort studies. These studies enrolled a total of 315 patients who underwent 389 surgical procedures. In the 2 RCTs, there was no difference in the hemodynamic profile between patients receiving stress doses of corticosteroids compared with patients receiving only their usual daily dose of corticosteroid. In the 5 cohort studies in which patients continued to receive their usual daily dose of corticosteroid without the addition of stress doses, no patient developed unexplained hypotension or adrenal crisis. One patient in each of the 2 cohort studies (5% and 1% of the cohort) in which the usual daily dose of corticosteroid was stopped 48 and 36 hours before surgery developed unexplained hypotension; both of these patients responded to hydrocortisone and fluid administration.
Conclusions: Patients receiving therapeutic doses of corticosteroids who undergo a surgical procedure do not routinely require stress doses of corticosteroids so long as they continue to receive their usual daily dose of corticosteroid. Adrenal function testing is not required in these patients because the test is overly sensitive and does not predict which patient will develop an adrenal crisis. Patients receiving physiologic replacement doses of corticosteroids owing to primary disease of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, however, require supplemental doses of corticosteroids in the perioperative period.