High-dose intramuscular triamcinolone in severe, chronic, life-threatening asthma

N Engl J Med. 1991 Feb 28;324(9):585-9. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199102283240903.


Background: Despite oral corticosteroid therapy, some patients with asthma have frequent exacerbations requiring emergency room visits, hospitalization, and occasionally, mechanical ventilation. We compared the effects of high-dose intramuscular triamcinolone with oral prednisone in patients with severe chronic asthma.

Methods: In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study that spanned all seasons, we treated 12 patients with high-dose intramuscular triamcinolone (360 mg over the first three days of the treatment period) or low-dose oral prednisone (median dose, 12.5 mg per day throughout the period; range 0 to 30). The two three-month treatment periods were separated by a three-month washout period. During all periods the patients were allowed to take additional doses of prednisone for acute exacerbations of asthma.

Results: After receiving triamcinolone, the patients had significantly better peak expiratory flow rates than while receiving prednisone (the average [+/- SEM] weekly percent of the predicted value during the triamcinolone period was 91.5 +/- 6.9, as compared with 75.0 +/- 5.9 for the prednisone period; P less than 0.05). During the prednisone period there were 21 emergency room visits and 10 hospitalizations, but there were none during the triamcinolone period (P less than 0.05). There were two episodes of ventilatory failure during the prednisone period. Total steroid doses were significantly smaller during the triamcinolone period than during the prednisone period (P less than 0.04). Steroidal side effects were more pronounced after treatment with triamcinolone than after treatment with prednisone (P less than 0.1).

Conclusions: We conclude that high-dose intramuscular triamcinolone is more effective than low-dose prednisone in patients with severe, chronic, life-threatening asthma, but steroidal side effects are somewhat worse.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Forced Expiratory Volume
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intramuscular
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Peak Expiratory Flow Rate
  • Prednisone / administration & dosage
  • Prednisone / therapeutic use
  • Triamcinolone / administration & dosage*
  • Triamcinolone / adverse effects
  • Triamcinolone / therapeutic use


  • Triamcinolone
  • Prednisone