“Hydrocortisone Therapy for Patients with Septic Shock”

N Engl J Med. 2008 Jan 10;358(2):111-24. [free full text]

Steroid therapy in septic shock has been a hotly debated topic since the 1980s. The Annane trial in 2002 suggested that there was a mortality benefit to early steroid therapy and so for almost a decade this became standard of care. In 2008 the CORTICUS trial was performed suggesting otherwise.

– inclusion criteria: ICU patients with septic shock onset with past 72 hrs (defined as SBP < 90 despite fluids or need for vasopressors, and hypoperfusion or organ dysfunction from sepsis)
– exclusion criteria: “underlying disease with a poor prognosis,” life expectancy < 24hrs, immunosuppression, recent corticosteroid use

Intervention: hydrocortisone 50mg IV q6h x5 days with taper

Comparison: placebo injections q6h x5 days plus taper


Primary: 28 day mortality among patients who did not have a response to ACTH stim test (cortisol rise < 9mcg/dL)

– 28 day mortality in patients who had a positive response to ACTH stim test
– 28 day mortality in all patients
– reversal of shock (defined as SBP ≥ 90 for at least 24hrs without vasopressors) in all patients
– time to reversal of shock in all patients

In ACTH non-responders (N=233): intervention vs. control 28 day mortality was 39.2% vs. 36.1% (p=0.69)

In ACTH responders (N=254): intervention vs. control 28 day mortality was 28.8% vs. 28.7% (p=1.00); reversal of shock 84.7%% vs. 76.5% (p=0.13)

Among all patients:
– intervention vs. control 28 day mortality was 34.3% vs. 31.5% (p=0.51)
– reversal of shock 79.7% vs. 74.2% (p=0.18)
– duration of time to reversal of shock was significantly shorter among patients receiving hydrocortisone (per Kaplan-Meier analysis, p<0.001; see Figure 2), median time to reversal 3.3 days vs. 5.8 days (95% CI 5.2 – 6.9)

The CORTICUS trial demonstrated no mortality benefit of steroid therapy in septic shock, regardless of a patient’s response to ACTH. Despite the lack of mortality benefit, it demonstrated an earlier resolution of shock with steroids. This lack of mortality benefit sharply contrasted with the previous Annane study. Several reasons have been posited for this including poor powering of the CORTICUS study (it did not reach the desired N=800), CORTICUS inclusion starting within 72 hrs of septic shock vs. Annane starting within 8 hrs, and Annane patients generally being sicker (including their inclusion criterion of mechanical ventilation). Subsequent meta-analyses disagree about the mortality benefit of steroids, but meta-regression analyses suggest benefit among the sickest patients. All studies agree about the improvement in shock reversal. The 2016 Surviving Sepsis Campaign guidelines recommend IV hydrocortisone in septic shock in patients who continue to be hemodynamically unstable despite adequate fluid resuscitation and vasopressor therapy.

Per Drs. Sonti and Vinayak of the GUH MICU (excerpted from their excellent Georgetown Critical Care Top 40): “Practically, we use steroids when reaching for a second pressor or if there is multiorgan system dysfunction. Our liver patients may have deficient cortisol production due to inadequate precursor lipid production; use of corticosteroids in these patients represents physiologic replacement rather than adjunct supplement.”

References / Further Reading
1. Wiki Journal Club
2. 2 Minute Medicine
3. Surviving Sepsis Campaign: International Guidelines for Management of Sepsis and Septic Shock (2016), section “Corticosteroids”
4. Annane trial (2002) [free full text]
5. Georgetown Critical Care Top 40 [iTunes / iBooks link]
6. UpToDate,“Glucocorticoid therapy in septic shock”

Summary by Gordon Pelegrin, MD

Week 5 – Albumin in SBP

“Effect of Intravenous Albumin on Renal Impairment and Mortality in Patients with Cirrhosis and Spontaneous Bacterial Peritonitis”

N Engl J Med. 1999 Aug 5;341(6):403-9. [free full text]

Renal failure commonly develops in the setting of SBP, and its development is a sensitive predictor of in-hospital mortality. The renal impairment is thought to stem from decreased effective arterial blood volume secondary to the systemic inflammatory response to the infection. In our current practice, there are certain circumstances in which we administer albumin early in the SBP disease course in order to reduce the risk of renal failure and mortality. Ultimately, our current protocol originated from the 1999 study of albumin in SBP by Sort et al.

Population: adults with SBP (see paper for extensive list of exclusion criteria)
Intervention: cefotaxime and albumin infusion 1.5gm/kg within 6hrs of enrollment, followed by 1gm/kg on day 3
Comparison: cefotaxime alone
1º: development of “renal impairment” (a “nonreversible” increase in BUN or Cr by more than 50% to a value greater than 30 mg/dL or 1.5 mg/dL, respectively) during hospitalization
2º: mortality during hospitalization

126 patients were randomized. Both groups had similar baseline characteristics, and both had similar rates of resolution of infection. Renal impairment occurred in 10% of the albumin group and 33% of the cefotaxime-alone group (p=0.02). In-hospital mortality was 10% in the albumin group and 29% in the cefotaxime-alone group (p=0.01). 78% of patients that developed renal impairment died in-hospital, while only 3% of patients who did not develop renal impairment died. Plasma renin activity was significantly higher on days 3, 6, and 9 in the cefotaxime-alone group than in the albumin group, while there were no significant differences in MAP among the two groups at those time intervals. Multivariate analysis of all trial participants revealed that baseline serum bilirubin and creatinine were independent predictors of the development of renal impairment.

Albumin administration reduces renal impairment and improves mortality in patients with SBP.

The findings of this landmark trial were refined by a brief 2007 report by Sigal et al. “Restricted use of albumin for spontaneous bacterial peritonitis.” “High-risk” patients, identified by baseline serum bilirubin of ≥ 4.0 mg/dL or Cr ≥ 1.0 mg/dL were given the intervention of albumin 1.5gm/kg on day 1 and 1gm/kg on day 3, and low-risk patients were not given albumin. None of the 15 low-risk patients developed renal impairment or died, whereas 12 of 21 (57%) of the high-risk group developed renal impairment, and 5 of the 21 (24%) died. The authors concluded that patients with bilirubin < 4.0 and Cr < 1.0 do not need scheduled albumin in the treatment of SBP.

The current (2012) American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases guidelines for the management of adult patients with ascites due to cirrhosis do not definitively recommend criteria for albumin administration in SBP – they instead summarize the above two studies.

A 2013 meta-analysis of four reports/trials (including the two above) concluded that albumin infusion reduced renal impairment and improved mortality with pooled odds ratios approximately commensurate with those of the 1999 study by Sort et al.

Ultimately, the current recommended practice per expert opinion is to perform albumin administration per the protocol outlined by Sigal et al. (2007).

Further Reading:
1. AASLD Guidelines for Management of Adult Patients with Ascites Due to Cirrhosis (skip to page 77)
2. Sigal et al. “Restricted use of albumin for spontaneous bacterial peritonitis”
3. Meta-analysis: “Albumin infusion improves outcomes of patients with spontaneous bacterial peritonitis: a meta-analysis of randomized trials
4. Wiki Journal Club
5. 2 Minute Medicine

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Week 3 – Dexamethasone in Bacterial Meningitis

“Dexamethasone in Adults With Bacterial Meningitis”

N Engl J Med 2002; 347:1549-1556 [NEJM free full text]

The current standard of care in the treatment of suspected bacterial meningitis in the developed world includes the administration of dexamethasone prior to or at the time of antibiotic initiation. The initial evaluation of this practice in part stemmed from animal studies which demonstrated that dexamethasone reduces CSF concentrations of inflammatory markers as well as neurologic sequelae after meningitis. RCTs in the pediatric literature also demonstrated clinical benefit. The best prospective trial in adults was this 2002 study by de Gans et al.

Population: adults with suspected meningitis

Intervention: dexamethasone 10mg IV q6hrs x4 days started 15-20 minutes before first IV abx

Comparison: placebo IV with same administration as above

primary = Glasgow Outcome Scale at 8 weeks (1 = death, 2 = vegetative state, 3 = unable to live independently, 4 = unable to return to school/work, 5 = able to return to school/work)
secondary = death, focal neurologic abnormalities, and others
subgroup analyses performed by organism

301 patients were randomized. At 8 weeks, 15% of dexamethasone patients had an unfavorable outcome (Glasgow Outcome Scale score of 1-4), vs. 25% of placebo patients (RR 0.59, 95% CI 0.37 – 0.94, p= 0.03). Among patients with pneumococcal meningitis, 26% of dexamethasone patients had an unfavorable outcome, vs. 52% of placebo patients. There was no significant difference among treatment arms within the subgroup of patients infected with meningococcal meningitis. Overall, death occurred in 7% of dexamethasone patients and 15% of placebo patients (RR 0.48, 95% CI 0.24 – 0.96, p = 0.04). In pneumococcal meningitis, 14% of dexamethasone patients died, vs. 34% of placebo patients. There was no difference in rates of focal neurologic abnormalities or hearing loss in either treatment arm (including within any subgroup).

Early adjunctive dexamethasone improves mortality in bacterial meningitis.

As noted in the above subgroup analysis, this benefit appears to be driven by the efficacy within the pneumococcal meningitis subgroup. Of note, the standard initial treatment regimen in this study was amoxicillin 2gm q4hrs for 7-10 days, not our standard ceftriaxone + vancomycin +/- ampicillin. Largely on the basis of this study alone, the IDSA guidelines for the treatment of bacterial meningitis (2004) recommend dexamethasone 0.15 mg/kg q6hrs for 2-4 days with first dose administered 10-20 min before or concomitant with initiation of antibiotics. Dexamethasone should be continued only if CSF Gram stain, CSF culture, or blood cultures are consistent with pneumococcus.

Further Reading:
1. IDSA guidelines for management of bacterial meningitis (2004)
2. Wiki Journal Club
3. 2 Minute Medicine

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD


“Intensive versus Conventional Glucose Control in Critically Ill Patients”

by the Normoglycemia in Intensive Care Evaluation–Survival Using Glucose Algorithm Regulation (NICE-SUGAR) investigators

N Engl J Med 2009; 360:1283-1297. [NEJM free full text]

On the wards we often hear 180 mg/dL used as the upper limit of acceptable for blood glucose, with the understanding that tighter glucose control in inpatients can lead to more harm than benefit. Interestingly, the relevant evidence base comes from ICU populations, with scant direct data in non-ICU patients. The 2009 NICE-SUGAR study is the largest and best among this evidence base.

Population: ICU patients expected to require 3 or more days of ICU-level care
Intervention: “intensive” glucose control = target glucose 81 to 108 mg/dL
Comparison: conventional glucose control = target of less than 180 mg/dL
Outcome: primary = 90-day all-cause mortality rate

6104 patients were randomized to the two arms, and both groups had similar baseline characteristics. 27.5% of patients in the intensive-control group died versus 24.9% in the conventional-control group (OR 1.14, 95% CI 1.02-1.28, p= 0.02). Severe hypoglycemia (< 40 mg/dL) was found in 6.8% of intensive patients but only 0.5% of conventional patients.

Intensive glucose control increases mortality in ICU patients.

Notably, only 20% of these patients had diabetes mellitus, suggesting that much of the hyperglycemia treated in this study (97% of intensive group received insulin, 69% of conventional) was from stress, critical illness, and corticosteroid use. For ICU patients, intensive insulin therapy is clearly harmful, but the ideal target glucose range remains controversial and by expert opinion appears to be 140-180. For non-ICU inpatients with or without diabetes mellitus, the ideal glucose target is also unclear – the ADA recommends 140-180, and the Endocrine Society recommends a pre-meal target of < 140 and random levels < 180.

Further reading:
1. ADA Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes 2016 (skip to page S99)
2. Wiki Journal Club

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD