Controversies in Corticosteroid use for Sepsis

Brit Long, Alex Koyfman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Severe sepsis and septic shock are potentially deadly conditions managed in the emergency department (ED). Management centers on source control, fluid resuscitation, broad-spectrum antimicrobials, and vasopressors as needed. The use of corticosteroids is controversial. Objective: To evaluate the evidence behind corticosteroid therapy in patients with septic shock. Discussion: Septic shock is associated with severe mortality and morbidity. Cytokine release produces a systemic inflammatory state. Vasopressor-resistant septic shock warrants consideration of the disease state and other pathologies such as adrenal insufficiency. Many studies and meta-analyses have been conducted evaluating corticosteroid therapy for this population. High-dose corticosteroid therapy is associated with increased harm, but physiologic-dose corticosteroids may decrease the need for vasopressors. Mortality benefit is controversial, with much of the literature demonstrating no effect. The risk of superinfection is not suggested by the majority of studies. The Surviving Sepsis Campaign advises consideration of corticosteroids in patients with vasopressor and fluid-resistant septic shock. Patients with vasopressor-resistant septic shock with no contraindications to corticosteroids may benefit from hydrocortisone 100 mg intravenously (i.v.) every 8 h or 50 mg i.v. every 6 h. Fludrocortisone is not recommended at this time. Conclusions: Septic shock is associated with higher mortality, specifically for patients with vasopressor and fluid-refractory shock. The use of physiologic-dose steroids can reduce vasopressor requirements and improve time of shock resolution. Current literature suggests corticosteroids do not improve mortality, but further studies are required.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
StateAccepted/In press - 2017


  • Corticosteroids
  • Cosyntropin
  • HPA axis
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Septic shock
  • Severe sepsis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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