Comparison of pulse-dose and high-dose corticosteroids with no corticosteroid treatment for COVID-19 pneumonia in the intensive care unit

Hamid Yaqoob, Daniel Greenberg, Frank Hwang, Curtis Lee, David Vernik, Ravi Manglani, Zhen Wang, M. Hassan Murad, Dipak Chandy, Oleg Epelbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Corticosteroid dosing in the range of 0.5–2 mg/kg/day of methylprednisolone equivalents has become a standard part of the management of intensive care unit (ICU) patients with COVID-19 pneumonia based on positive results of randomized trials and a meta-analysis. Alongside such conventional dosing, administration of 1 gm of methylprednisolone daily (pulse dosing) has also been reported in the literature with claims of favorable outcomes. Comparisons between such disparate approaches to corticosteroids for Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pneumonia are lacking. In this retrospective study of patients admitted to the ICU with COVID-19 pneumonia, we compared patients treated with 0.5–2 mg/kg/day in methylprednisolone equivalents (high-dose corticosteroids) and patients treated with 1 gm of methylprednisolone (pulse-dose corticosteroids) to those who did not receive any corticosteroids. The endpoints of interest were hospital mortality, ICU-free days at Day 28, and complications potentially attributable to corticosteroids. Pulse-dose corticosteroid therapy was associated with a significant increase in ICU-free days at Day 28 compared to no receipt: adjusted relative risk (aRR): 1.45 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.05–2.02; p = 0.03) and compared with high-dose corticosteroid administration (p = 0.003). Nonetheless, receipt of high-dose corticosteroids—but not of pulse-dose corticosteroids—significantly reduced the odds of hospital mortality compared to no receipt: adjusted Odds ratio (aOR) 0.31 (95% CI: 0.12–0.77; p = 0.01). High-dose corticosteroids reduced mortality compared to pulse-dose corticosteroids (p = 0.04). Pulse-dose corticosteroids—but not high-dose corticosteroids—significantly increased the odds of acute kidney injury requiring renal replacement therapy compared to no receipt: aOR 3.53 (95% CI: 1.27–9.82; p = 0.02). The odds of this complication were also significantly higher in the pulse-dose group when compared to the high-dose group (p = 0.05 for the comparison). In this single-center study, pulse-dose corticosteroid therapy for COVID-19 pneumonia in the ICU was associated with an increase in ICU-free days but failed to impact hospital mortality, perhaps because of its association with development of severe renal failure. In line with existing trial data, the effect of high-dose corticosteroids on mortality was favorable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)349-356
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of medical virology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • COVID-19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • corticosteroids
  • glucocorticoids
  • intensive care unit
  • methylprednisolone
  • pneumonia
  • pulse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Virology


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