Objective: To compare the efficacy of methylprednisolone administered for 24 hours with methyprednisolone administered for 48 hours or tirilazad mesylate administered for 48 hours in patients with acute spinal cord injury.
Design: Double-blind, randomized clinical trial.
Setting: Sixteen acute spinal cord injury centers in North America.
Patients: A total of 499 patients with acute spinal cord injury diagnosed in National Acute Spinal Cord Injury Study (NASCIS) centers within 8 hours of injury.
Intervention: All patients received an intravenous bolus of methylprednisolone (30 mg/kg) before randomization. Patients in the 24-hour regimen group (n=166) received a methylprednisolone infusion of 5.4 mg/kg per hour for 24 hours, those in the 48-hour regimen group (n=167) received a methylprednisolone infusion of 5.4 mg/kg per hour for 48 hours, and those in the tirilazad group (n=166) received a 2.5 mg/kg bolus infusion of tirilazad mesylate every 6 hours for 48 hours.
Main outcome measures: Motor function change between initial presentation and at 6 weeks and 6 months after injury, and change in Functional Independence Measure (FIM) assessed at 6 weeks and 6 months.
Results: Compared with patients treated with methylprednisolone for 24 hours, those treated with methylprednisolone for 48 hours showed improved motor recovery at 6 weeks (P=.09) and 6 months (P=.07) after injury. The effect of the 48-hour methylprednisolone regimen was significant at 6 weeks (P=.04) and 6 months (P=.01) among patients whose therapy was initiated 3 to 8 hours after injury. Patients who received the 48-hour regimen and who started treatment at 3 to 8 hours were more likely to improve 1 full neurologic grade (P=.03) at 6 months, to show more improvement in 6-month FIM (P=.08), and to have more severe sepsis and severe pneumonia than patients in the 24-hour methylprednisolone group and the tirilazad group, but other complications and mortality (P=.97) were similar. Patients treated with tirilazad for 48 hours showed motor recovery rates equivalent to patients who received methylprednisolone for 24 hours.
Conclusions: Patients with acute spinal cord injury who receive methylprednisolone within 3 hours of injury should be maintained on the treatment regimen for 24 hours. When methylprednisolone is initiated 3 to 8 hours after injury, patients should be maintained on steroid therapy for 48 hours.