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Steroids increase death risk from traumatic head injury

The common use of anti-inflammatory steroids for traumatic head injuries like those from car crashes may actually increase the risk of death, according to a new review of studies about the treatment.1

A previous review found there was not enough evidence to recommend that routine use of steroids be stopped. This newer analysis published by the British-based Cochrane Library draws heavily from a recent study of corticosteroid treatment for brain injury, including coma and concussion, that included 10,008 patients, more than all similar studies combined.

The large study found that patients treated with corticosteroids were 18 percent more likely to die from their brain injury than those who did not take the drugs. Among the patients who received steroid treatment, 21 percent ,or 1,052 of the 4,985 treated, died, compared to 18 percent who received a placebo.

"The significant increase in death with steroids found in this trial suggests that steroids should no longer be routinely used in people with traumatic head injury," says Dr. Phil Alderson, lead author of the Cochrane study.

The review appears in the January issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of the Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.

Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory hormones used to treat all kinds of inflammation, from joint injury to asthma. They differ from anabolic steroids, the sex hormones like androgen, which are typically used to increase muscle mass and improve athletic performance.

Corticosteroids are "widely used in medicine to treat inflammation," Alderson explains. "It is thought that some of the damage after a brain injury results from inflammation following the initial injury and that reducing inflammation might reduce this sec
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Contact: Phil Alderson
palderson@cochrane.co.uk
Center for the Advancement of Health
23-Jan-2005


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