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Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

Systemic corticosteroids for the treatment of COVID-19

Overview of attention for article published in Cochrane database of systematic reviews, August 2021
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  • In the top 5% of all research outputs scored by Altmetric
  • High Attention Score compared to outputs of the same age (99th percentile)
  • High Attention Score compared to outputs of the same age and source (97th percentile)

Mentioned by

47 news outlets
2 blogs
238 tweeters
6 Facebook pages
1 Wikipedia page


118 Dimensions

Readers on

267 Mendeley
Systemic corticosteroids for the treatment of COVID-19
Published in
Cochrane database of systematic reviews, August 2021
DOI 10.1002/14651858.cd014963
Pubmed ID

Carina Wagner, Mirko Griesel, Agata Mikolajewska, Anika Mueller, Monika Nothacker, Karoline Kley, Maria-Inti Metzendorf, Anna-Lena Fischer, Marco Kopp, Miriam Stegemann, Nicole Skoetz, Falk Fichtner


Systemic corticosteroids are used to treat people with COVID-19 because they counter hyper-inflammation. Existing evidence syntheses suggest a slight benefit on mortality. So far, systemic corticosteroids are one of the few treatment options for COVID-19. Nonetheless, size of effect, certainty of the evidence, optimal therapy regimen, and selection of patients who are likely to benefit most are factors that remain to be evaluated. To assess whether systemic corticosteroids are effective and safe in the treatment of people with COVID-19, and to keep up to date with the evolving evidence base using a living systematic review approach. We searched the Cochrane COVID-19 Study Register (which includes PubMed, Embase, CENTRAL, ClinicalTrials.gov, WHO ICTRP, and medRxiv), Web of Science (Science Citation Index, Emerging Citation Index), and the WHO COVID-19 Global literature on coronavirus disease to identify completed and ongoing studies to 16 April 2021. We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that evaluated systemic corticosteroids for people with COVID-19, irrespective of disease severity, participant age, gender or ethnicity.  We included any type or dose of systemic corticosteroids. We included the following comparisons: systemic corticosteroids plus standard care versus standard care (plus/minus placebo), dose comparisons, timing comparisons (early versus late), different types of corticosteroids and systemic corticosteroids versus other active substances.  We excluded studies that included populations with other coronavirus diseases (severe acute respiratory syndrome or Middle East respiratory syndrome), corticosteroids in combination with other active substances versus standard care, topical or inhaled corticosteroids, and corticosteroids for long-COVID treatment. We followed standard Cochrane methodology. To assess the risk of bias in included studies, we used the Cochrane 'Risk of bias' 2 tool for RCTs. We rated the certainty of evidence using the GRADE approach for the following outcomes: all-cause mortality, ventilator-free days, new need for invasive mechanical ventilation, quality of life, serious adverse events, adverse events, and hospital-acquired infections. We included 11 RCTs in 8075 participants, of whom 7041 (87%) originated from high-income countries. A total of 3072 participants were randomised to corticosteroid arms and the majority received dexamethasone (n = 2322). We also identified 42 ongoing studies and 16 studies reported as being completed or terminated in a study registry, but without results yet.  Hospitalised individuals with a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of symptomatic COVID-19 Systemic corticosteroids plus standard care versus standard care plus/minus placebo  We included 10 RCTs (7989 participants), one of which did not report any of our pre-specified outcomes and thus our analysis included outcome data from nine studies.  All-cause mortality (at longest follow-up available): systemic corticosteroids plus standard care probably reduce all-cause mortality slightly in people with COVID-19 compared to standard care alone (median 28 days: risk difference of 30 in 1000 participants fewer than the control group rate of 275 in 1000 participants; risk ratio (RR) 0.89, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.80 to 1.00; 9 RCTs, 7930 participants; moderate-certainty evidence).  Ventilator-free days: corticosteroids may increase ventilator-free days (MD 2.6 days more than control group rate of 4 days, 95% CI 0.67 to 4.53; 1 RCT, 299 participants; low-certainty evidence). Ventilator-free days have inherent limitations as a composite endpoint and should be interpreted with caution.  New need for invasive ventilation: the evidence is of very low certainty. Because of high risk of bias arising from deaths that occurred before ventilation we are uncertain about the size and direction of the effects. Consequently, we did not perform analysis beyond the presentation of descriptive statistics.  Quality of life/neurological outcome: no data were available. Serious adverse events: we included data on two RCTs (678 participants) that evaluated systemic corticosteroids compared to standard care (plus/minus placebo); for adverse events and hospital-acquired infections, we included data on five RCTs (660 participants). Because of high risk of bias, heterogeneous definitions, and underreporting we are uncertain about the size and direction of the effects. Consequently, we did not perform analysis beyond the presentation of descriptive statistics (very low-certainty evidence).    Different types, dosages or timing of systemic corticosteroids  We identified one study that compared methylprednisolone with dexamethasone. The evidence for mortality and new need for invasive mechanical ventilation is very low certainty due to the small number of participants (n = 86). No data were available for the other outcomes. We did not identify comparisons of different dosages or timing. Outpatients with asymptomatic or mild disease Currently, there are no studies published in populations with asymptomatic infection or mild disease. Moderate-certainty evidence shows that systemic corticosteroids probably slightly reduce all-cause mortality in people hospitalised because of symptomatic COVID-19. Low-certainty evidence suggests that there may also be a reduction in ventilator-free days. Since we are unable to  adjust for the impact of early death on subsequent endpoints, the findings for ventilation outcomes and harms have limited applicability to inform treatment decisions. Currently, there is no evidence for asymptomatic or mild disease (non-hospitalised participants).  There is an urgent need for good-quality evidence for specific subgroups of disease severity, for which we propose level of respiratory support at randomisation. This applies to the comparison or subgroups of different types and doses of corticosteroids, too. Outcomes apart from mortality should be measured and analysed appropriately taking into account confounding through death if applicable.  We identified 42 ongoing and 16 completed but not published RCTs in trials registries suggesting possible changes of effect estimates and certainty of the evidence in the future. Most ongoing studies target people who need respiratory support at baseline. With the living approach of this review, we will continue to update our search and include eligible trials and published data.

Twitter Demographics

The data shown below were collected from the profiles of 238 tweeters who shared this research output. Click here to find out more about how the information was compiled.

Mendeley readers

The data shown below were compiled from readership statistics for 267 Mendeley readers of this research output. Click here to see the associated Mendeley record.

Geographical breakdown

Country Count As %
Unknown 267 100%

Demographic breakdown

Readers by professional status Count As %
Student > Bachelor 25 9%
Student > Master 22 8%
Other 14 5%
Researcher 14 5%
Professor > Associate Professor 10 4%
Other 33 12%
Unknown 149 56%
Readers by discipline Count As %
Medicine and Dentistry 56 21%
Nursing and Health Professions 10 4%
Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology 6 2%
Psychology 6 2%
Agricultural and Biological Sciences 5 2%
Other 28 10%
Unknown 156 58%

Attention Score in Context

This research output has an Altmetric Attention Score of 515. This is our high-level measure of the quality and quantity of online attention that it has received. This Attention Score, as well as the ranking and number of research outputs shown below, was calculated when the research output was last mentioned on 27 August 2022.
All research outputs
of 23,392,375 outputs
Outputs from Cochrane database of systematic reviews
of 12,661 outputs
Outputs of similar age
of 400,803 outputs
Outputs of similar age from Cochrane database of systematic reviews
of 158 outputs
Altmetric has tracked 23,392,375 research outputs across all sources so far. Compared to these this one has done particularly well and is in the 99th percentile: it's in the top 5% of all research outputs ever tracked by Altmetric.
So far Altmetric has tracked 12,661 research outputs from this source. They typically receive a lot more attention than average, with a mean Attention Score of 33.0. This one has done particularly well, scoring higher than 99% of its peers.
Older research outputs will score higher simply because they've had more time to accumulate mentions. To account for age we can compare this Altmetric Attention Score to the 400,803 tracked outputs that were published within six weeks on either side of this one in any source. This one has done particularly well, scoring higher than 99% of its contemporaries.
We're also able to compare this research output to 158 others from the same source and published within six weeks on either side of this one. This one has done particularly well, scoring higher than 97% of its contemporaries.