Study: Corticosteroids combined with antibiotics can quicken pneumonia recovery

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In what is believed to be the largest study investigating the potential of using corticosteroids for community-acquired pneumonia, Dutch researchers found that patients treated with a combination of corticosteroids and antibiotics recover more quickly, HealthDay News reported.

After a diagnosis of CAP, a patient typically is given only antibiotics. To determine the efficacy of corticosteroids, investigators divided 300 Dutch patients with the pneumonia into two groups. Half of the participants were put on a standard antibiotic protocol with 5 milligrams of the corticosteroid dexamethasone per day. The other half were given antibiotics plus a placebo. Four days later, investigators found that patients who took the corticosteroids had less lung inflammation and recovered faster than those who were given just antibiotics. Additionally, those who received corticosteroids required one less day in the hospital.

Pulmonary specialists told HealthDay News that they were not surprised at the results because corticosteroids are known for their anti-inflammatory effect. But they stress caution in using the drugs for too long.

"The downside is that we know that corticosteroids are immune-suppressive. And so the possibility exists that when you use them, you could be prolonging the actual recovery time even as you are masking the symptoms, although this study doesn't say that," said pulmonary specialist Len Horovitz, M.D.

The findings were published Tuesday in the online version of the Lancet.