Indian Journal of Anaesthesia

: 2007  |  Volume : 51  |  Issue : 5  |  Page : 389-

Steroid Therapy - Current Indications in Practice

VK Grover1, Ramesh Babu2, S.P.S Bedi2,  
1 Professor, MD, MNAMS, DNB Department of Anaesthesia & Intensive Care, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research Chandigarh, India
2 Senior Resident, MD, DNB Department of Anaesthesia & Intensive Care, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research Chandigarh, India

Correspondence Address:
V K Grover
H. No. 53, Sector 24-A, Chandigarh - 160023


Steroids are a widely used group of drugs in anaesthesia practice, sometimes with definite indication and sometimes without indication. When used judiciously they have proved to be of immense help. There has been a renewed interest in the use of steroids in modern day perioperative medicine. In the following article the recent trends, relevance and consensus issues on the use of steroids as adjunct pharmacological agents in relation to anaesthesia have been discussed, along with emphasis on important clinical aspects of their perioperative usefulness.

How to cite this article:
Grover V K, Babu R, Bedi S. Steroid Therapy - Current Indications in Practice.Indian J Anaesth 2007;51:389-389

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Grover V K, Babu R, Bedi S. Steroid Therapy - Current Indications in Practice. Indian J Anaesth [serial online] 2007 [cited 2021 Apr 10 ];51:389-389
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The steroids are among the most widely used class of drugs and their role in the therapy of pulmonary, in­flammatory, dermatological and oncological diseases has been well described. There is an increasing application of steroid therapy during perioperative period for vari­ous purposes. Some of the current indications are:­

Perioperative replacement therapy.Anti-inflammatory uses and hyper-reactive airwayPost operative nausea and vomiting (PONV)Analgesia adjunctDay care surgeryAnaphylaxisSeptic shockOther indications like - cerebral oedema, spinal cord injury, various surgical causes.

Steroids have different effects on different tissues, which are dose dependent. The reason for varied effect of steroidslies in its mechanism of action. Tissue specific­ity of steroid hormone action is achieved by tissue spe­cific expression of steroid receptors and transcription fac­tors. Natural and synthetic steroids display varied recep­tor-binding affinities and pharmacokinetic features. The relative potency of different steroids has generally been defined on the basis of pituitary ACTH suppressive effect in the morning after single dose of oral steroids [1] .

Equivalent doses apply only to oral or intravenous preparations- Short (8-12 Hrs), L- Long (36-72 Hrs), I­- Intermediate (12-36 Hrs)

 Steroids in replacement therapy

Steroid administration is necessary in perioperative period in patients treated for hypoadrenocorticism or in a patient with separation of pituitary adrenal axis owing to present or previous steroid intake. The increase in circulating cortisone levels in response to surgical trauma is one of the important components of stress response of our body. In perioperative setting this response is essential to avoid haemodynamic instability, metabolic, electrolyte, and fluid imbalances. In a well controlled study of glucocorticoid replacements in animals the investigators clearly defined the life threatening events, from haemodynamic fluctuations to addisonian crisis lead­ing to death that can be associated with inadequate re­placement of cortisol in perioperative setup [2] .

The specific duration and dose of steroid that can produce pituitary adrenal axis suppression is controversial. The time required for the recovery from the sup­pression due to steroid intake varies from 2-5 days [3] to nine months [4] . Certainly more suppression may be ex­pected in the setting of higher and longer duration of steroid therapy. Evaluation of the status of HPA axis and the adrenal reserve of the patients who have re­ceived steroid therapy should be based on biochemical testing, if available. A conservative estimate is to con­sider perioperative steroid therapy in all patients who have received steroids for at least one month in the past 6-12 months.

There is no fixed steroid replacement protocol which is widely accepted. The amount of steroid supple­mentation dose and the duration should be based on the magnitude of surgical stress as well as preoperative ste­roid dose and the degree of HPA suppression. One of the widely practiced steroid replacements in perioperative setting is given by Kehlet, Symreng et al and Salem et al [5],[6],[7] [Table 2].

Patients taking steroids for immune suppression in organ transplantation need same high supraphysiological dosage during perioperative period to prevent deteriora­tion in the transplanted organ function. These patients do not need additional steroid coverage since immuno­suppressive doses are more than sufficient to maintain cardiovascular stability. It is important to note that the oral steroids must be supplemented by parenteral ste­roids in equivalent doses. For example, a patient who is taking 60 mg prednisolone per day requires 250mg hy­drocortisone infusion over 24 hours during perioperative period till oral intake is established.

 Steroids as anti-inflammatory

Steroids profoundly alter both the cellular and hu­moral immune responses. These can prevent or sup­press inflammation in response to multiple inciting events including radiation, mechanical, chemical, infectious and immunological stimuli. Multiple mechanisms are involved in the suppression of inflammation by steroids. They inhibit the production of various inflammatory factors which are critical in generating and propagating the in­flammatory response like interleukins, cytokines, and chemotactic agents. As a result there is a decreased release of vasoactive and chemo-attractive factors, diminished secretion of lipolytic and proteolytic enzymes, decreased extravasation of leucocytes to area of injury. The net effect of these actions on various immune cells, results in a diminished inflammatory response. Anti-in­flammatory property is usually seen with higher doses. For their anti-inflammatory actions common perioperative indications are (a) Hyper-reactive airways: asthma, for­eign body, and trauma. (b)Anaphylactic reactions: drug allergies, blood transfusion reactions. (c)Transplantation of solid organs. (d) Spinal cord injuries(within 8hours of injury).Connective tissue disorders or autoimmune dis­orders.

 Steroids in hyper-reactive airway

Although steroids are not true bronchodilator, they have well established usefulness in hyper-reactive air­way. Their action is mainly by virtue of their anti-in­flammatory action leading to decreased mucosal oedema and prevention of release of broncho-constricting sub­stances. They are also said to have a permissive role for bronchodilator medication i.e. they enhance efficacy of bronchodilator medication. They are useful in both acute as well as chronic hyper-reactive diseases. For this purpose they can be administered orally, parenter­ally or in aerosol form. The most commonly encountered hyper-reactive states in anaesthetic practice are patients with history of asthma, recent upper respiratory tract infection, difficult airway, multiple intubation at­tempts, aspiration, foreign body bronchus, airway sur­geries and COPD. In these settings, usually, steroid is given in anti-inflammatory doses to have their beneficial role of preventing inflammatory mediated airway oedema as well as broncho-constriction.

 Steroids and PONV

Recently various studies have been conducted to evaluate the efficacy of steroids in managing PONV [8] . Steroids have been commonly used in chemotherapy for prevention of nausea along with other anti-emetic agents. Optimum dose was found to be 10mg of dexamethasone, and same dose was found to be highly effective when given immediately before induction rather than at the end of anaesthesia [9] . In meta-analysis of randomized trials, Hirayama et al found that dexamethasone was more ef­fective than either droperidol or metoclopramide in the prevention of PONV induced by morphine after surgery [10] . Tzeng et al reported that dexamethasone alone did not reduce the incidence of PONV in women receiving gen­eral anaesthesia for dilatation and curettage, but it did ap­pear to enhance the antiemetic effect of droperidol [11] . Stud­ies have been done to know the synergy between 5HT3 receptor antagonist and dexamethasone. Fujii et al inves­tigated the antiemetic efficacy of granisetron with or with­out dexamethasone given immediately prior to induction in patients undergoing laparoscopic cholecystectomy or thyroidectomy. There was significant decreased incidence of PONV in combination group compared to granisetron alone group. This suggests that dexamethasone and 5HT3 receptor antagonist act at different sites and overall com­bination is superior to individual drug alone. The mecha­nism by which it reduces PONV is not known, but is thought to be due to decrease in production of inflamma­tory mediators which are known to act on the CTZ area as well as improve the blood-brain barrier function, it is also known to act synergistically with 5HT3receptors an­tagonists.

 Steroids and analgesia

There are studies which have shown steroids do exert analgesic effects. Various routes of administration of ste­roids include parentral [12] , local infiltration at operated site [13] , as an adjuvant in nerve blocks [14] and central-neuraxial blockade. The mode of analgesic effect is ill defined, it may be due to their anti-inflammatory action resulting in decrease of production of various inflammatory media­tors that play a major role in amplifying and maintenance of pain perception. They have also been seen to increase the endorphin levels and mood elevation [15]

 Steroids and day care surgery

Various studies of steroids in perioperative setting have shown that they are beneficial in preventing fac­tors which delay the patients' discharge in ambulatory surgeries. Steroids decrease the incidence of PONV, postoperative pain, establish early oral intake, produce euphoric effect by decreasing level of prostaglandins, and elevating those of endorphins Aasboe et al used betamethasone12 mg intramuscularly, 30minutes prior to ambulatory hemorrhoidectomy or hallux valgus cor­rection and they found significantly less postoperative pain, less PONV, and better patient satisfaction [16] .

 Steroids and anaphylactic/ allergic reaction

Steroids cannot be the mainstay of therapy in ana­phylaxis because of the delayed onset of action, so they are used as adjunct after initial treatment with epineph­rine (adults) : 0.5 ml of 1:1000 intramuscular or subcu­taneous, which may be used every 15 min for upto 3 times. Glucocorticoids can supplement primary therapy to suppress manifestations of allergic diseases of a lim­ited duration like Hayfever, serum sickness, urticaria, con­tact dermatitis, drug reactions, bee stings, and angion­eurotic edema. In very severe diseases intravenous methylprednisolone125mg every 6 hours, or equivalent can be used. In less severe diseases antihistaminics form the first choice.

 Steroids and sepsis/septic shock

Patients having severe sepsis or in septic shock were found to have occult or unrecognized adrenal in­sufficiency, incidence may be has high as 28% in seri­ously ill patients [17] . Clinically it has been shown that in sepsis with adrenal insufficiency, steroid supplementa­tion was associated with significantly higher rate of suc­cess in the withdrawal of vassopressor therapy.

Some studies have suggested steroid therapy in sep­sis is not only associated with no clinical improvement, but may be harmful [18] . However, River et al found that ste­roids may not be beneficial in all septic patients but for an identifiable subgroup of patients they can be useful.

Usually steroids are administered in this setting to meet the steroid requirement of body, for fighting the ongoing stressful condition. The commonly used steroid is hydrocortisone -1 .

 Other purposes

1. Cerebral oedema: Steroids are of value in reduction or prevention of cerebral oedema associated with parasitic infections and neoplasms. The mechanism by which steroids influence vasogenic oedema are thought to include one or more of the following [3] : (1) sta­bilization of cerebral endothelium, leading to a decrease in plasma filtration;(2) increase in lysosomal activity of cerebral capillaries; (3) inhibition of release of poten­tially toxic substances such as free radicals, fatty acids, and prostaglandins; (4) electrolyte shifts favoring transcapillary efflux of fluid; and (5) increase in local and global cerebral glucose use, leading to improved neuronal function.

In the management of patient with malignant brain tumour, it is not uncommon for subjects who are somno­lent or stuporouson admission, to respond within hours, to a loading dose of dexamethasone (8 to 32mg) and to appear alert and without neurological deficits by the following day.

2. Spinal cord injury: The use of steroids re­mains controversial for cord injuries because improve­ment is minimal and difficult to document. A suggested protocol for traumatic cord injury includes the use of high dose methyl prednisolone with an intravenous bolus of -1 followed by -1 hr -1 infusion for 23 hours [19] . Steroids must be used within 8 hrs of cord in­sult to be of any benefit. Some of the partial cord syn­dromes have been reported to respond favorably and prompted the maintenance of steroids through a sub acute interval of one week, followed by weaning.

3. Steroids in surgery: High and long term ste­roids tend to produce adverse effects on GIT, wound healing, and also cause increase in infection. However anti-inflammatory action of steroids have beneficial role to play in surgery. Shimada et al in their retrospective study of patients undergoing resection of esophageal carcinoma, reported that those patients who received methylprednisolone 250mg prior and two days following surgery had low morbidity rates from anastomotic leak­age and liver dysfunction [20] . The inflammatory mediators, body temperature and heart rate were signifi­cantly low in steroid group, the author suggested that improvement may be because of suppression of local edema leading to improved microcirculation at operative site and reduction in tissue injury due to inflammation mediated substances. Saureland et al in their review of 51 studies of the patients receiving high dose methyl­prednisolone (15 -30 -1 ) or placebo prior to sur­gery, found to have a non significant more GIT bleed and wound complication in steroid group [21] . The only sig­nificant finding was a greater reduction in perioperative pulmonary complication in steroid group.[Table 1]


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