Week 8 – CORTICUS

“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.

Population:
– 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

Outcome:

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

Secondary:
– 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

Results:
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)

Discussion:
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

3 thoughts on “Week 8 – CORTICUS”

  1. I would like to call attention to the ADRENAL Trial which was recently published in NEJM [http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1705835].

    The trial found that “among patients with septic shock undergoing mechanical ventilation, a continuous infusion of hydrocortisone did not result in lower 90-day mortality than placebo.” The authors did note “a more rapid resolution of shock and a lower incidence of blood transfusion” among patients receiving hydrocortisone.

    I agree with the folks at EmCrit that this is essentially a negative study [https://emcrit.org/emnerd/cc-nerd-case-relative-insufficiency/]. In the existing context of CORTICUS, the results of the ADRENAL trial do not change my management of refractory septic shock.

  2. APROCCHSS is another major trial from the past year (3/2018) that addresses this question. Of note, the first author is Annane.

    Among patients with septic shock, combined treatment with hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone reduces 90-day all-cause mortality.

    PubMed [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29490185]
    NEJM [https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1705716]

    Wiki Journal Club [https://www.wikijournalclub.org/wiki/APROCCHSS]
    PulmCrit [https://emcrit.org/pulmcrit/aprocchss/]
    PulmCCM [https://pulmccm.org/infectious-disease-sepsis-review/hydrocortisone-plus-fludrocortisone-improved-survival-septic-shock-aprocchs-trial/]

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