Corticosteroids as adjunctive therapy for severe Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial

N Engl J Med. 1990 Nov 22;323(21):1444-50. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199011223232103.


Background: Preliminary reports suggest that patients with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia may benefit from the addition of corticosteroid treatment to antibiotic therapy.

Methods: We conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to assess the efficacy of adjunctive corticosteroids in patients with AIDS and severe P. carinii pneumonia. Patients with marked abnormalities in gas exchange who had been treated with antibiotics for less than 72 hours were randomly assigned to receive either methylprednisolone (40 mg) or placebo every 6 hours for 7 days, in addition to treatment for 21 days with trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole. The primary outcome measures were survival until hospital discharge and the development of respiratory failure.

Results: Twenty-three patients were enrolled in the study; there were no significant differences in base-line clinical or laboratory measures between the two treatment groups. Of 12 patients treated with corticosteroids, 9 (75 percent) survived until hospital discharge, as compared with only 2 of 11 placebo recipients (18 percent) (P less than 0.008). Respiratory failure developed in nine placebo recipients, as compared with only three patients treated with corticosteroids (P less than 0.008). No patient required the interruption or discontinuation of corticosteroid or antibiotic treatment because of toxicity or a complicating event. Because of the marked difference in survival, it was deemed unethical to continue the trial, and the study was terminated.

Conclusions: Early adjunctive corticosteroid therapy can improve survival and decrease the occurrence of respiratory failure in patients with AIDS and severe P. carinii pneumonia.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / complications*
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / administration & dosage*
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methylprednisolone / administration & dosage
  • Methylprednisolone / adverse effects
  • Methylprednisolone / therapeutic use
  • Middle Aged
  • Pneumonia, Pneumocystis / drug therapy*
  • Pneumonia, Pneumocystis / mortality
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / etiology
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / prevention & control
  • Trimethoprim, Sulfamethoxazole Drug Combination / administration & dosage
  • Trimethoprim, Sulfamethoxazole Drug Combination / adverse effects
  • Trimethoprim, Sulfamethoxazole Drug Combination / therapeutic use


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Trimethoprim, Sulfamethoxazole Drug Combination
  • Methylprednisolone