HAMILTON, Ontario, Aug. 11 (Stephen Feller) — The results of several studies show pneumonia patients treated with corticosteroids exhibited lowered likelihood of complications, and were released from the hospital one day earlier.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lung, often caused by a virus or bacteria, and is characterized by a cough, chest pain, fever, and difficulty breathing. Severe cases of the infection can lead to hospitalization, and complications include acute respiratory distress syndrome, which requires mechanical ventilation, and death.
“Our study should lead to an important change in treatment for pneumonia,” said Dr. Reed Siemieniuk, a physician and a graduate student at McMaster University, in a press release. “Corticosteroids are inexpensive and readily available around the world. Millions of patients will benefit from this new evidence.”
Corticosteroids are often used for lung problems related to asthma and other conditions that include some type of inflammation in the lungs. Researchers analyzed the results of 13 studies with more than 2,000 patients, finding that treating patients with some form of corticosteroid was beneficial to clearing the infection.
Across the studies, researchers found that corticosteroid treatment reduced death due to pneumonia by about 3 percent, the need for mechanical ventilation by 5 percent, and reduced hospital stays by about one full day. The risk of developing acute respiratory distress syndrome was cut by 6.2 percent.
“Seldom do we see a major advance in treatment of a condition as common as community-acquired pneumonia,” said Dr. Gordon Guyatt, a professor of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics at McMaster. “Corticosteroids over short periods are safe, and we now know that they achieve important benefits in a serious and common medical illness.”
The study is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.