The controversial role of corticosteroids in septic shock

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



American Journal of Emergency Medicine








Corticosteroid; Drug therapy; Hydrocortisone; Pharmacology; Septic shock; Therapeutic use


Background: Several clinical trials and literature reviews have been conducted to evaluate the impact of corticosteroids on the physiological markers and clinical outcomes of patients in septic shock. While the findings have been somewhat contradictory, there is evidence of moderate benefit from the administration of low-dose corticosteroids to patients in septic shock. In this review, we discuss recent studies evaluating the impact of corticosteroids on morbidity and mortality in septic shock and explore future directions to fully elucidate when and how the administration of corticosteroid therapies can be beneficial. Methods: A literature review was performed using the Mesh database of PubMed with the term “septic shock” and subheadings “therapeutic use”, “drug therapy”, “pharmacology”, and “therapy” followed by the addition of “steroid”. Filters were added to restrict the search to 18+ age, English and human studies, and articles published within the last 10 years. One hundred sixty-five articles were examined and twenty-five were deemed relevant to this review. Results: The twenty-five articles reviewed here provide conflicting evidence as to the usefulness of corticosteroid treatments during septic shock. Several showed improved physiological outcomes, including rates of organ failure, need for life supporting interventions, adverse effects, inflammatory markers, and perfusion during the course of septic shock, as well as decreased mortality for a statistically significant number of patients. Conclusions: There remains a need for improved therapy for patients in septic shock. Corticosteroids have shown some potential in improving mortality rates and clinical markers. Additional studies are needed to determine the optimal role of corticosteroids in septic shock.