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BMJ. 1997 Jun 28;314(7098):1855-9.

Corticosteroids in acute traumatic brain injury: systematic review of randomised controlled trials.

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  • 1UK Cochrane Centre, NHS Research and Development Programme, Oxford.



To quantify the effectiveness and safety of corticosteroids in the treatment of acute traumatic brain injury.


Systematic review of randomised controlled trials of corticosteroids in acute traumatic brain injury. Summary odds ratios were estimated as an inverse variance weighted average of the odds ratios for each study.


Randomised trials available by March 1996.


The included trials with outcome data comprised 2073 randomised participants.


The effect of corticosteroids on the risk of death was reported in 13 included trials. The pooled odds ratio for the 13 trials was 0.91 (95% confidence interval 0.74 to 1.12). Pooled absolute risk reduction was 1.8% (-2.5% to 5.7%). For the 10 trials that reported death or disability the pooled odds ratio was 0.90 (0.72 to 1.11). For infections of any type the pooled odds ratio was 0.92 (0.69 to 1.23) and for the seven trials reporting gastrointestinal bleeding it was 1.05 (0.44 to 2.52). With only those trials with the best quality of concealment of allocation, the pooled odds ratio estimates for death and death or disability became closer to unity.


This systematic review of randomised controlled trials of corticosteroids in acute traumatic brain injury shows that there remains considerable uncertainty over their effects. Neither moderate benefits nor moderate harmful effects can be excluded. The widely practicable nature of the drugs and the importance of the health problem suggest that large simple trials are feasible and worth while to establish whether there are any benefits from use of corticosteroids in this setting.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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