Steroid controversy in sepsis and septic shock: a meta-analysis

Crit Care Med. 1995 Jul;23(7):1294-303. doi: 10.1097/00003246-199507000-00021.


Objective: The use of corticosteroids in patients with sepsis or septic shock has been controversial for many decades. Clinical studies have reported beneficial, as well as negative results. We conducted a meta-analysis to assess the clinical evidence and to evaluate treatment effects in specific subgroups of patients.

Design: Meta-analysis.

Data sources: A comprehensive search of the literature revealed 49 publications investigating the effect of corticosteroids in patients with sepsis and septic shock.

Study selection: Only ten of the 49 publications were prospective, randomized, controlled trials with an exact description of dosage and regimen.

Data extraction: Treatment effects on mortality were calculated as rate differences in each study (negative values favor steroids), and were combined with respect to the variability in each study.

Data synthesis: Only one study showed a significantly positive effect of steroid treatment. Overall, no positive effect was observed: -0.2% (95% confidence interval: -9.2, 8.8). There were no differences observed when comparing low- vs. high-dose or type of corticosteroid used. Comparing patients with proven Gram-positive or Gram-negative infection showed a slight but not significant difference. The Gram-negative group demonstrated better outcome (-5.6% vs. 1.8%). A quality rating of each trial showed a remarkable increase in quality over time. Adverse events (gastrointestinal bleeding, secondary infections, hyperglycemia) were not more frequent in patients treated with steroids compared with controls.

Conclusions: No overall beneficial effect of corticosteroids in patients with septic shock was observed; however, there is some evidence for a positive effect in patients with Gram-negative septicemia.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Humans
  • Sepsis / drug therapy*
  • Sepsis / mortality
  • Shock, Septic / drug therapy*
  • Shock, Septic / mortality
  • Survival Rate


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones