Objective: The authors review the historical basis for the provision of perioperative glucocorticoid coverage, and detail the evolution in the understanding of the role of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortical (HPA) axis in response to physical stressors. New recommendations are proposed for glucocorticoid-dependent patients who require anesthesia and surgery.
Summary background data: In 1952, a patient developed surgery-associated adrenal insufficiency as a result of preoperative withdrawal from glucocorticoid therapy. That case report, and one other in the ensuing 12 months, prompted the publication of recommendations for perioperative glucocorticoid coverage, which became the standard of care. The understanding of the role of the HPA axis in the stress response has been subsequently refined; however, recommendations for perioperative glucocorticoid coverage have not been altered in parallel.
Methods: Studies were identified beginning with the first reports of the physiologic actions of the adrenal glands (1855) and the description and clinical use of cortisone (1930-1993). Studies were selected for review if they were related to or evaluated the provision of stress-related glucocorticoid administration. All clinical studies were evaluated to determine the basis for the provision of perioperative glucocorticoid coverage and the validity of the data used to justify these conclusions.
Conclusions: Clinical and experimental evidence support the concept that the current amount of perioperative glucocorticoid coverage is excessive and has been based on anecdotal information. New recommendations are proposed which suggest that the amount and duration of glucocorticoid coverage should be determined by: a) the preoperative dose of glucocorticoid taken by the patient, b) the preoperative duration of glucocorticoid administration, and c) the nature and anticipated duration of surgery.