Association of corticosteroids use and outcomes in COVID-19 patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis

J Infect Public Health. 2020 Nov;13(11):1652-1663. doi: 10.1016/j.jiph.2020.09.008. Epub 2020 Sep 29.


Background: To systematically review the literature about the association between systemic corticosteroid therapy (CST) and outcomes of COVID-19 patients.

Methods: We searched Medline, Embase, EBM Reviews, Scopus, Web of Science, and preprints up to July 20, 2020. We included observational studies and randomized controlled trials (RCT) that assessed COVID-19 patients treated with CST. We pooled adjusted effect estimates of mortality and other outcomes using a random effect model, among studies at low or moderate risk for bias. We assessed the certainty of evidence for each outcome using the GRADE approach.

Results: Out of 1067 citations screened for eligibility, one RCT and 19 cohort studies were included (16,977 hospitalized patients). Ten studies (1 RCT and 9 cohorts) with 10,278 patients examined the effect of CST on short term mortality. The pooled adjusted RR was 0.92 (95% CI 0.69-1.22, I2 = 81.94%). This effect was observed across all stages of disease severity. Four cohort studies examined the effect of CST on composite outcome of death, ICU admission and mechanical ventilation need. The pooled adjusted RR was 0.41(0.23-0.73, I2 = 78.69%). Six cohort studies examined the effect of CST on delayed viral clearance. The pooled adjusted RR was 1.47(95% CI 1.11-1.93, I2 = 43.38%).

Conclusion: In this systematic review, as of July 2020, heterogeneous and low certainty cumulative evidence based on observational studies and one RCT suggests that CST was not associated with reduction in short-term mortality but possibly with a delay in viral clearance in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 of different severities. However, the discordant results between the single RCT and observational studies as well as the heterogeneity observed across observational studies, call for caution in using observational data and suggests the need for more RCTs to identify the clinical and biochemical characteristics of patients' population that could benefit from CST.

Keywords: COVID-19; Corticosteroids; Efficacy; Meta-analysis.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / drug therapy*
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / drug therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones