UK Politics

Cheap steroid drug reduces deaths in sickest COVID-19 patients, research finds


A cheap and widely available steroid has been found to reduce mortality in the sickest COVID-19 patients.

Hydrocortisone, an anti-inflammatory drug, could save one in every 12 patients and will be recommended for use in NHS coronavirus patients.

It is the second drug found to be effective in reducing mortality in those with severe symptoms of COVID-19.

Researchers from Imperial College London and the Intensive Care National Audit & Research Centre found that patients receiving intensive care who were treated with hydrocortisone for seven days had a 93% chance of a better recovery compared to patients who were not treated with the steroid.

The benefits of hydrocortisone were announced alongside analysis from seven trials involving three different types of steroids – including dexamethasone, which has already been found to reduce mortality and is widely used.


The studies found that treatment with one of dexamethasone, hydrocortisone or methylprednisolone led to an estimated 20% reduction in the risk of death.

Professor Anthony Gordon, who led the research into hydrocortisone, said: "The studies published today show that we now have more than one choice of treatment for those who need it most.

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"Steroids are not a cure, but they help improve outcomes. Having a choice of different types of steroids, all of which seem to improve patient recovery, is great as it helps ease the problem of drug supply issues."

A total of 403 patients of various ethnicities were recruited from across the world for the hydrocortisone study, including patients from 88 hospitals in the UK.

Image: The drug is only beneficial to the sickest hospital patients

Researchers say there is no benefit for choosing to treat a patient with either dexamethasone or hydrocortisone over the other, but it offers more options for cheap and effective and treatments and gives clinicians more choice on what to use.

There were too few patients involved in tests of methylprednisolone to enable researchers to estimate its impact with assurance.

The steroids do not work for those with milder symptoms, but the evidence strongly suggests that they reduce the lung inflammation in patients with COVID-19 who are seriously ill and require oxygen support for their breathing difficulties, regardless of age or sex.

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