Are corticosteroids salvage therapy for refractory acute respiratory distress syndrome?

Am J Surg. 1995 Dec;170(6):591-5; discussion 595-6. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9610(99)80022-1.


Background: Late acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), characterized by progressive pulmonary interstitial fibroproliferation, is associated with mortality > 80%. Although previous large prospective trials failed to show a benefit of steroids in early ARDS, recent small reports describe improved survival in patients with late ARDS. Recognizing the pathogenetic differences between early and late ARDS, we employed steroid therapy in patients with refractory late ARDS.

Patients and methods: Over a 5-year period, we treated 6 patients who were dying of isolated refractory ARDS with methylprednisolone sodium succinate (1 to 2 mg/kg every 6 hours). Ventilatory parameters and lung injury scores were serially recorded, and steroids were weaned based on clinical response.

Results: Steroids were instituted after 16 days of advanced mechanical ventilatory support. By day 7 of steroid therapy, there was clinically significant improvement in PaO2/FiO2 ratios (84 to 172) and lung injury scores (3.6 to 2.9); 5 patients (83%) survived.

Conclusions: Steroid therapy appears to be effective in patients with refractory late ARDS. Prospective trials are needed to define the indications, timing of intervention, dose and duration, and precautions of steroid therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methylprednisolone Hemisuccinate / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / mortality
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Respiratory Mechanics
  • Salvage Therapy
  • Survival Rate


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Methylprednisolone Hemisuccinate