Patients on Steroids With COVID-19 Might Need Rescue Steroids


What your doctor is reading on Medscape.com:

APRIL 03, 2020 –Endocrinologists have underlined the importance that physicians consider “a stress dose” of glucocorticoids in the event of severe COVID-19 infection in endocrine, and other, patients on long-term steroids.

People taking corticosteroids on a routine basis for a variety of underlying inflammatory conditions, such as asthma, allergies, and arthritis, are at elevated risk of being infected with, and adversely affected by, COVID-19.

This also applies to a rarer group of patients with adrenal insufficiency and uncontrolled Cushing syndrome, as well as secondary adrenal insufficiency occurring in hypopituitarism, who also rely on glucocorticoids for day-to-day living.


In the event of COVID-19, all of these individuals may be unable to mount a normal stress response, and “in the case of adrenal suppression…such patients may run into severe difficulties, particularly if on intensive care units,” warns Paul Stewart, MD, University of Leeds, UK, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

As such, it is vitally important to recognize that “Injectable supplemental glucocorticoid therapy in this setting can reverse the risk of potentially fatal adrenal failure and should be considered in every case,” Stewart and colleagues emphasize in a newly published editorial in JCEM.

They note this advice must be considered alongside World Health Organization (WHO) guidance against prescribing therapeutic glucocorticoids to treat complications of COVID-19, based on prior experience in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome, as well as those affected by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

The key difference here is not to use pharmacologic doses of glucocorticoids as treatment for COVID-19 (where they have no effect), but rather to prevent death from adrenal failure by using “stress” doses of replacement glucocorticoid, Stewart explained to Medscape Medical News.

“The intent here is to ensure that no patient with a history of prior exposure to chronic glucocorticoid therapy (> 3 months) by whatever route should die without consideration for parenteral glucocorticoid therapy,” the editorialists write.

He advises using physiological stress doses of hydrocortisone (50-100 mg intravenously tid).




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