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Inflammation BioMarker C-Reactive Protein Guides Use of Systemic Glucocorticoids in Patients with COVID-19: The Effects on Mortality or Use of Mechanical Ventilation – (CRP) ≥20 mg/dL was associated with significantly reduced risk of Mortality or Mechanical Ventilation Efficacy

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

 

In patients with high levels of inflammation — at least 20 mg/dL — steroid treatment was associated with a 77% reduction in the risk of needing mechanical ventilation or dying (odds ratio [OR], 0.23).

Importantly, treating with steroids when CRP levels were less than 10 mg/dL was associated with an almost threefold increased risk of going on mechanical ventilation or dying (OR, 2.64).

“The laboratory test could potentially be very helpful,” Keller told Medscape Medical News.

https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/934571

Effect of Systemic Glucocorticoids on Mortality or Mechanical Ventilation in Patients With COVID-19

Article has an altmetric score of 299

Abstract

The efficacy of glucocorticoids in COVID-19 is unclear. This study was designed to determine whether systemic glucocorticoid treatment in COVID-19 patients is associated with reduced mortality or mechanical ventilation. This observational study included 1,806 hospitalized COVID-19 patients; 140 were treated with glucocorticoids within 48 hours of admission. Early use of glucocorticoids was not associated with mortality or mechanical ventilation. However, glucocorticoid treatment of patients with initial C-reactive protein (CRP) ≥20 mg/dL was associated with significantly reduced risk of mortality or mechanical ventilation (odds ratio, 0.23; 95% CI, 0.08-0.70), while glucocorticoid treatment of patients with CRP <10 mg/dL was associated with significantly increased risk of mortality or mechanical ventilation (OR, 2.64; 95% CI, 1.39-5.03). Whether glucocorticoid treatment is associated with changes in mortality or mechanical ventilation in patients with high or low CRP needs study in prospective, randomized clinical trials.

Glucocorticoids are useful as adjunctive treatment for some infections with inflammatory responses, but their efficacy in COVID-19 is unclear. Prior experience with influenza and other coronaviruses may be relevant. A recent meta-analysis of influenza pneumonia showed increased mortality and a higher rate of secondary infections in patients who were administered glucocorticoids.3 For Middle East respiratory syndrome, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and influenza, some studies have demonstrated an association between glucocorticoid use and delayed viral clearance.4-7 However, a recent retrospective series of patients with COVID-19 and ARDS demonstrated a decrease in mortality with glucocorticoid use.8 Glucocorticoids are easily obtained and familiar to providers caring for COVID-19 patients. Hence their empiric use is widespread.8,9

The primary goal of this study was to determine whether early glucocorticoid treatment is associated with reduced mortality or need for MV in COVID-19 patients.

DISCUSSION

The results of this study indicate that early treatment with glucocorticoids is not associated with mortality or need for MV in unselected patients with COVID-19. Subgroup analyses suggest that glucocorticoid-treated patients with markedly elevated CRP may benefit from glucocorticoid treatment, whereas those patients with lower CRP may be harmed. Our findings were consistent after adjustment for clinical characteristics. The public health implications of these findings are hard to overestimate. Given the global growth of the pandemic and that glucocorticoids are widely available and inexpensive, glucocorticoid therapy may save many thousands of lives. Equally important because we have been able to identify a group that may be harmed, some patients may be saved because glucocorticoids will not be given.

Our study reaffirms the finding of the as yet unpublished Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) trial that there is a subset of patients with COVID-19 who benefit from treatment with glucocorticoids.10 Our study extends the findings of the RECOVERY trial in two important ways. First, in addition to finding some patients who may benefit, we also have identified patient groups that may experience harm from treatment with glucocorticoids. This finding suggests choosing the right patients for glucocorticoid treatment is critical to maximize the likelihood of benefit and minimize the risk of harm. Second, we have identified patient groups who are likely to benefit (or be harmed) on the basis of a widely available lab test (CRP).

Our results are also consistent with previous studies of patients with SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, in which no associations between glucocorticoid treatment and mortality were found.7 However, the results of studies examining the effect of glucocorticoids in patients with COVID-19 are less consistent.8,11,12

Few of the previous studies examined the effects of glucocorticoids in subgroups of patients. In our study, the improved outcomes associated with glucocorticoid use in patients with elevated CRPs is intriguing and may be clinically important. Proinflammatory cytokines, especially interleukin-6, acutely increase CRP levels. Cytokine storm syndrome (CSS) is a hyperinflammatory condition that occurs in a subset of COVID-19 patients, often resulting in multiorgan dysfunction.13 CRP is markedly elevated in CSS,14 and improved outcomes with glucocorticoid therapy in this subgroup may indicate benefit in this inflammatory phenotype. Patients with lower CRP are less likely to have CSS and may experience more harm than benefit associated with glucocorticoid treatment.

Several limitations are inherent to this study. Since it was done at a single center, the results may not be generalizable. As a retrospective analysis, it is subject to confounding and bias. In addition, because patients were included only if they had reached the outcome of death/MV or hospital discharge, the sample size was truncated. We believe glucocorticoid use in hospitalized patients excluded from the study reflects increased use with time because of a growing belief in their effectiveness.

Preliminary analysis from the RECOVERY study showed a reduced rate of mortality in patients randomized to dexamethasone, compared with those who received standard of care.10 These results led to the National Institutes for Health COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel recommendation for dexamethasone treatment in patients with COVID-19 who require supplemental oxygen or MV.15 Our findings suggest a role for CRP to identify patients who may benefit from glucocorticoid therapy, as well as those in whom it may be harmful. Additional studies to further elucidate the role of CRP in guiding glucocorticoid therapy and to predict clinical response are needed.

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