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Evaluation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis during the post-COVID-19 period in patients treated with steroids during the illness.

OBJECTIVE: COVID-19 is a multisystem immunoinflammatory disorder, and the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis may be affected by SARS-CoV-2 as well as by steroid treatment during the illness. Information on the HPA axis after recovering from COVID-19, especially in those treated with steroids, is sparse. Hence, this study was performed to evaluate the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis during the post-COVID-19 period in patients treated with steroids during the illness.

SUBJECT AND METHODS: This prospective study involved 60 patients aged 18-60 years who had recovered from moderate or severe COVID-19 and had received steroid treatment during the illness. The HPA axis was assessed with a low-dose (1 mcg) adrenocorticotropic hormone stimulation test at 3, 6 and 9 months in the post-COVID period.

RESULTS: The HPA axis was suppressed in 31.66% of the patients at 3 months and 5% at 6 months; however, all patients recovered at 9 months. Cumulative steroid use during the illness was inversely correlated with stimulated cortisol at 3 months in the post-COVID period. Fatigue was present in 58.33% of the patients at 3 months and was more prevalent in those with HPA axis suppression.

CONCLUSION: Nearly one-third of the patients with moderate to severe COVID-19 who were treated with steroids had suppressed HPA axis at 3 months, with gradual recovery over a period of 9 months. Cumulative steroid equivalent dose, but not disease severity, was predictive of HPA axis suppression at 3 months.

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