Early administration of corticosteroids in emergency room treatment of acute asthma

L M Stein, R P Cole
Annals of Internal Medicine 1990 June 1, 112 (11): 822-7

STUDY OBJECTIVE: To determine the effect of early administration of high-dose intravenous corticosteroids on duration of emergency room treatment and hospital admission rate in patients with acute asthma.

DESIGN: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.

SETTING: The emergency room of a large, urban hospital with primary and referral care responsibilities.

PATIENTS: Eighty-one patients from 18 to 45 years of age with acute bronchial asthma and without pneumonitis or other serious underlying illnesses were studied on 91 occasions and were randomly assigned to control or experimental groups.

INTERVENTIONS: The steroid group received 125 mg of intravenous methylprednisolone whereas the control group received intravenous normal saline 30 minutes after initial treatment. Additional treatment included aerosolized metaproterenol and oral theophylline therapy. Six hours after study entry, remaining patients were treated with 40 mg of intravenous methylprednisolone. Hospitalization was mandatory if total treatment time was greater than 12 hours.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Age, sex, peak expiratory flow at entry, and prevalence of recent corticosteroids use were similar in both groups. Duration of emergency room treatment was 6.7 +/- 4.2 (SD) hours in the steroid group and 6.3 +/- 4.1 hours in the control group (P = 0.66). Hospitalization was necessary in 18% (95% CI, 7% to 30%) of the steroid group and in 13% (CI, 3% to 22%) of the control group. Frequency of return visits for acute asthma 2 days after emergency room discharge was 11% (CI, -1% to 22%) in the steroid group and 13% (CI, 2% to 23%) in the control group.

CONCLUSIONS: These results fail to show any benefit for early administration of corticosteroids in patients with acute asthma. Routine administration of corticosteroids on initial presentation in such patients may not be warranted.

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