Corticosteroids for prevention of mortality in people with tuberculosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Lancet Infect Dis. 2013 Mar;13(3):223-37. doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(12)70321-3. Epub 2013 Jan 29.


Background: The effects of corticosteroids are systemic, but their benefits in tuberculosis are thought to be organ specific, with clinicians using them routinely to treat some forms of tuberculosis (such as meningitis), but not others. We aimed to assess the effects of steroids on mortality attributable to all forms of tuberculosis across organ systems.

Methods: We did a systematic review and meta-analysis to estimate the efficacy of steroids for the prevention of mortality in all forms of tuberculosis, and to quantify heterogeneity in this outcome between affected organ systems. We searched the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group trials register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Medline, Embase, and Literatura Latino-Americana e do Caribe em Ciências da Saúde (LILACS) for studies published up to Sept 6, 2012, and checked reference lists of included studies and relevant reviews. We included all trials in people with tuberculosis in any organ system, with tuberculosis defined clinically or microbiologically. There were no restrictions by age, comorbidity, publication language, or type, dose, or duration of steroid treatment. We used the Mantel-Haenszel method to summarise mortality across trials.

Findings: We identified 41 eligible trials, 18 of which assessed pulmonary tuberculosis. 20 of the 41 trials (including 13 of those for pulmonary tuberculosis) were done before the introduction of modern rifampicin-containing antituberculosis chemotherapy. Meta-analysis stratified by affected organ systems identified no heterogeneity; steroids reduced mortality by 17% (risk ratio [RR] 0·83, 95% CI 0·74-0·92; I(2) 0%), consistent across all organ groups. In a sensitivity analysis that only included trials that used rifampicin-containing regimens, the results were similar (RR 0·85, 95% CI 0·74-0·98; I(2) 21%). A sensitivity analysis in pulmonary tuberculosis that excluded trials with high potential risks of bias suggested a slight benefit, but the point estimate was closer to no effect and the difference was not significant (RR 0·93, 95% CI 0·60-1·44).

Interpretation: Steroids could be effective in reducing mortality for all forms of tuberculosis, including pulmonary tuberculosis. However, further evidence is needed since few recent trials have assessed the effectiveness of corticosteroids in patients with pulmonary tuberculosis.

Funding: UK Department for International Development.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Antitubercular Agents / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Rifampin / therapeutic use
  • Tuberculosis / drug therapy*
  • Tuberculosis / mortality*


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Antitubercular Agents
  • Rifampin