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Crit Care. 2004 Apr;8(2):122-9. Epub 2003 Sep 29.

Clinical review: corticotherapy in sepsis.

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Service de Réanimation Médicale, Hôpital Raymond Poincaré, Garches, France.


The use of glucocorticoids (corticotherapy) in severe sepsis is one of the main controversial issues in critical care medicine. These agents were commonly used to treat sepsis until the end of the 1980s, when several randomized trials casted serious doubt on any benefit from high-dose glucocorticoids. Later, important progress in our understanding of the role played by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in the response to sepsis, and of the mechanisms of action of glucocorticoids led us to reconsider their use in septic shock. The present review summarizes the basics of the physiological response of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis to stress, including regulation of glucocorticoid synthesis, the cellular mechanisms of action of glucocorticoids, and how they influence metabolism, cardiovascular homeostasis and the immune system. The concepts of adrenal insufficiency and peripheral glucocorticoid resistance are developed, and the main experimental and clinical data that support the use of low-dose glucocorticoids in septic shock are discussed. Finally, we propose a decision tree for diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency and institution of cortisol replacement therapy.

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