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Steroids for acute spinal cord injury.

BACKGROUND: Acute spinal cord injury is a devastating condition typically affecting young people with a preponderance being male. Steroid treatment in the early hours of the injury is aimed at reducing the extent of permanent paralysis during the rest of the patient's life.

OBJECTIVES: To review randomized trials of steroids for acute spinal cord injury.

SEARCH STRATEGY: The review draws on the search strategy developed by the Cochrane Injuries Group. In addition, files of the National Acute Spinal Cord Injury Study have been reviewed and a Medline search conducted.

SELECTION CRITERIA: All published or unpublished randomized controlled trials of steroid treatment for acute spinal cord injury in any language.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Data have been abstracted from original trial reports. For the NASCIS, Japanese and French trials, additional data (e.g. SDs) have been obtained from the original authors.

MAIN RESULTS: There are few trials in this area of medical care. Only one steroid has been extensively studied, methylprednisolone sodium succinate, which has been shown to improve neurologic outcome up to one year post injury if administered within eight hours of injury and in a dose regimen of: bolus 30mg/kg administered over 15 minutes with a maintenance infusion of 5.4 mg/kg per hour infused for 23 hours. The initial North American trial was replicated in a Japanese trial but not in the one from France. Data has been obtained from the latter studies to permit appropriate meta-analysis of all three trials. This analysis indicates significant recovery in motor function after methylprednisolone therapy when administration commences within eight hours of injury. A more recent trial indicates that if methylprednisolone therapy is given for an additional 24 hours (for a total of 48 hours), additional improvement in motor neurologic function and functional status is observed. This is particularly observed if treatment cannot be started until between three to eight hours after injury. The same methylprednisolone therapy has been found effective in whiplash injuries and a modified regimen found to improve recovery after surgery for lumbar disc disease.

REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: High dose methylprednisolone steroid therapy is the only pharmacological therapy shown to have efficacy in a Phase Three randomized trial when it can be administered within eight hours of injury. A recent trial indicates additional benefit by extending the maintenance dose from 24 to 48 hours if start of treatment must be delayed to between three and eight hours after injury. There is an urgent need for more randomized trials of pharmacological therapy for acute spinal cord injury.

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