Current Infectious Disease Reports

, Volume 10, Issue 5, pp 354-361

Adjunctive therapies in severe sepsis and septic shock: Current place of steroids

  • Didier KehAffiliated withDepartment of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, Campus Virchow-Clinic, Charité Universitaetsmedizin Berlin Email author 
  • , Steffen Weber-Carstens
  • , Olaf Ahlers

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For more than five decades, the use of corticosteroids as an adjunctive therapy to treat severe sepsis and septic shock has incited consistent debate. Negative results of the Corticosteroid Therapy of Septic Shock (CORTICUS) study evoked a revision of Surviving Sepsis Campaign guidelines suggesting a more restricted use of low-dose hydrocortisone only in patients with severe septic shock. Hemodynamic improvement by low-dose steroids was evident and independent from adrenal insufficiency, but did not improve survival. The roles of cortisol measurement and adrenal function tests for treatment decisions have been questioned. An international task force introduced the concept of critical illness-related corticosteroid insufficiency, which challenges the predominant role of adrenal dysfunction and underscores sustained inflammation due to tissue steroid resistance. Whether moderate steroid doses induce superinfections and muscle weakness is unclear. This article reviews recent publications, actual recommendations, ongoing discussions, and future perspectives.