UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Critical Care

Title: Steroids in COVID -- If Some is Good then More is Better... right?

Keywords: COVID, Steroids, Dexamethasone (PubMed Search)

Posted: 10/11/2022 by Mark Sutherland, MD (Updated: 12/7/2022)
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Needless to say, therapeutics for COVID-19 pneumonia have been controversial.  From hydroxychloroquine to ivermectin to remedesivir to steroids to bleach (sorry, but it had to be said...),  it depends on who you ask whether medications make a difference in COVID, how much of a difference, when they should be given, and what the correct dose is. 

Dexamethasone, however, ala the RECOVERY trial, is one of the relatively few therapies supported by the majority of the literature and guidelines, and generally is recommended when respiratory support is required for COVID-19 pneumonia.  Further add to this that steroids for ARDS is a long-running point of critical care controversy (e.g. DEXA-ARDS, Meduri, etc), and all you need to say to an intensivist is "how much steroid should I give this patient?" and you can walk away and come back 10 minutes later to find them having not noticed you had ever left.

Wu et all did a fairly small (n=107) single-centered RCT looking at dexamethasone 6 mg daily vs dexamethasone 20 mg daily for COVID-19 requiring O2.  There are several notable limitations to this study, but in short it did NOT add support to the notion that higher dose dexamethasone is a good thing for COVID-19 pneumonia.  In fact, the 20 mg group trended towards worse outcomes.  Small sample size, single-center, limited follow up, variable use of biologics between the groups, and failure to investigate intermediate doses between 6 and 20 are all significant limitations of this trial. Of note, DEXA-ARDS, which was conducted before COVID (2013-2018), looked at 20 mg x 5 days followed 10 mg x 5 days and DID find a significant benefit, as well as pretty darn good NNT and p values (and was a higher quality trial), so in my opinion it is also not unreasonable to use DEXA-ARDS dosing if the patient meets moderate-severe ARDS (P:F < 200) criteria, even though of course DEXA-ARDS was before COVID and Wu et al slightly contradicts it. 

When faced with a very sick COVID-19 pneumonia patients many intensivists will do either RECOVERY or DEXA-ARDS dexamethasone (with relatively limited basis to choose one vs the other), and some will do Meduri protocol methylprednisolone (1-2 mg/kg/day).  Relatively few nowadays will omit steroids unless there's a contraindication.

 

Bottom Line: It probably remains a good idea to give dexamethasone to your COVID-19 pneumonia patients with hypoxia, but you can probably stick to RECOVERY (see reference below; 6 mg daily x 10 days) dosing as opposed to higher doses.  If they're REALLY sick (P:F < 200), consider DEXA-ARDS (20 mg x 5 days followed by 10 mg x 5 days) dosing.