The effects of steroids during sepsis depend on dose and severity of illness: an updated meta-analysis

Clin Microbiol Infect. 2009 Apr;15(4):308-18. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-0691.2009.02752.x.


A previous meta-analysis determined that the effects of steroids during sepsis were dose-dependent; since then, additional trials have been published. The current analysis updates our previous analysis examining the effects of steroids during sepsis. A literature search from 2004 to 2008 identified seven randomized controlled trials in adult patients; these were added to 14 previously identified trials. The effects of steroids on mortality were highly variable among the 21 trials (p <0.001, I(2) = 60%). In trials published before 1989, which involved short courses of high-dose steroids, steroids increased mortality (n = 8, I(2) = 14%, OR of death 1.39 (95% CI 1.04-1.86), p 0.03). In trials published after 1997, which involved longer courses of lower-dose steroids, steroids consistently improved shock reversal (n = 7, I(2) = 0%, OR of shock reversal 1.66 [95% CI 1.25-2.20), p <0.001), but demonstrated a more heterogeneous beneficial effect on mortality (n = 12, I(2) = 25%, OR of death 0.64 (95% CI 0.45-0.93), p 0.02). An inverse linear relationship between severity of illness and the effects of steroids on mortality was identified across all trials (p 0.03) and within the subgroup of trials published after 1997 (p 0.03); steroids were harmful in less severely ill patient populations and beneficial in more severely ill patient populations. There was no effect of response to adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) stimulation testing concerning the effects of steroids and no increase in steroid-associated adverse events. Low-dose steroids appear to improve mortality rates in patients with septic shock who are at high risk of death; however, additional trials in this subpopulation are necessary to definitively determine the role of low-dose steroids during sepsis.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Sepsis / drug therapy*
  • Sepsis / mortality
  • Steroids / therapeutic use*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Steroids