Current best evidence for clinical care (more info)
Importance: Evidence regarding corticosteroid use for severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is limited.
Objective: To determine whether hydrocortisone improves outcome for patients with severe COVID-19.
Design, Setting, and Participants: An ongoing adaptive platform trial testing multiple interventions within multiple therapeutic domains, for example, antiviral agents, corticosteroids, or immunoglobulin. Between March 9 and June 17, 2020, 614 adult patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 were enrolled and randomized within at least 1 domain following admission to an intensive care unit (ICU) for respiratory or cardiovascular organ support at 121 sites in 8 countries. Of these, 403 were randomized to open-label interventions within the corticosteroid domain. The domain was halted after results from another trial were released. Follow-up ended August 12, 2020.
Interventions: The corticosteroid domain randomized participants to a fixed 7-day course of intravenous hydrocortisone (50 mg or 100 mg every 6 hours) (n = 143), a shock-dependent course (50 mg every 6 hours when shock was clinically evident) (n = 152), or no hydrocortisone (n = 108).
Main Outcomes and Measures: The primary end point was organ support-free days (days alive and free of ICU-based respiratory or cardiovascular support) within 21 days, where patients who died were assigned -1 day. The primary analysis was a bayesian cumulative logistic model that included all patients enrolled with severe COVID-19, adjusting for age, sex, site, region, time, assignment to interventions within other domains, and domain and intervention eligibility. Superiority was defined as the posterior probability of an odds ratio greater than 1 (threshold for trial conclusion of superiority >99%).
Results: After excluding 19 participants who withdrew consent, there were 384 patients (mean age, 60 years; 29% female) randomized to the fixed-dose (n = 137), shock-dependent (n = 146), and no (n = 101) hydrocortisone groups; 379 (99%) completed the study and were included in the analysis. The mean age for the 3 groups ranged between 59.5 and 60.4 years; most patients were male (range, 70.6%-71.5%); mean body mass index ranged between 29.7 and 30.9; and patients receiving mechanical ventilation ranged between 50.0% and 63.5%. For the fixed-dose, shock-dependent, and no hydrocortisone groups, respectively, the median organ support-free days were 0 (IQR, -1 to 15), 0 (IQR, -1 to 13), and 0 (-1 to 11) days (composed of 30%, 26%, and 33% mortality rates and 11.5, 9.5, and 6 median organ support-free days among survivors). The median adjusted odds ratio and bayesian probability of superiority were 1.43 (95% credible interval, 0.91-2.27) and 93% for fixed-dose hydrocortisone, respectively, and were 1.22 (95% credible interval, 0.76-1.94) and 80% for shock-dependent hydrocortisone compared with no hydrocortisone. Serious adverse events were reported in 4 (3%), 5 (3%), and 1 (1%) patients in the fixed-dose, shock-dependent, and no hydrocortisone groups, respectively.
Conclusions and Relevance: Among patients with severe COVID-19, treatment with a 7-day fixed-dose course of hydrocortisone or shock-dependent dosing of hydrocortisone, compared with no hydrocortisone, resulted in 93% and 80% probabilities of superiority with regard to the odds of improvement in organ support-free days within 21 days. However, the trial was stopped early and no treatment strategy met prespecified criteria for statistical superiority, precluding definitive conclusions.
Trial Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT02735707.
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The study looked at the use of steroids in decreasing the likelihood and time on organ support in COVID-19. Hydrocortisone either in fixed dose or shock-response dosing seemed to show a potential for use, the trial was stopped early when the results of the dexamethasone trial from the UK became available. So, while not conclusive, there is added evidence that steroids mitigate the cytokine storm in COVID-19.
The debate and inquiry regarding use of steroids in ARDS and critical illness continues. However, this article and other recent studies suggest that steroids in select circumstances of extreme COVID-19 illness yield a higher probability of benefit than harm. This article and the editorial should be disseminated widely, along with the appropriate caveats.