Context: No pharmacological therapeutic protocol has been found effective in modifying the clinical course of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and mortality remains greater than 50%.
Objective: To determine the effects of prolonged methylprednisolone therapy on lung function and mortality in patients with unresolving ARDS.
Design: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.
Setting: Medical intensive care units of 4 medical centers.
Participants: Twenty-four patients with severe ARDS who had failed to improve lung injury score (LIS) by the seventh day of respiratory failure.
Interventions: Sixteen patients received methylprednisolone and 8 received placebo. Methylprednisolone dose was initially 2 mg/kg per day and the duration of treatment was 32 days. Four patients whose LIS failed to improve by at least 1 point after 10 days of treatment were blindly crossed over to the alternative treatment.
Main outcome measures: Primary outcome measures were improvement in lung function and mortality. Secondary outcome measures were improvement in multiple organ dysfunction syndrome (MODS) and development of nosocomial infections.
Results: Physiological characteristics at the onset of ARDS were similar in both groups. At study entry (day 9 [SD, 3] of ARDS), the 2 groups had similar LIS, ratios of PaO2 to fraction of inspired oxygen (FIO2), and MODS scores. Changes observed by study day 10 for methylprednisolone vs placebo were as follows: reduced LIS (mean [SEM], 1.7 [0.1] vs 3.0 [0.2]; P<.001); improved ratio of PaO2 to FIO2 (mean [SEM], 262  vs 148 ; P<.001); decreased MODS score (mean [SEM], 0.7 [0.2] vs 1.8 [0.3]; P<.001); and successful extubation (7 vs 0; P=.05). For the treatment group vs the placebo group, mortality associated with the intensive care unit was 0 (0%) of 16 vs 5 (62%) of 8 (P=.002) and hospital-associated mortality was 2 (12%) of 16 vs 5 (62%) of 8 (P=.03). The rate of infections per day of treatment was similar in both groups, and pneumonia was frequently detected in the absence of fever.
Conclusions: In this study, prolonged administration of methylprednisolone in patients with unresolving ARDS was associated with improvement in lung injury and MODS scores and reduced mortality.