Comparison of high- and low-dose corticosteroid regimens for organ donor management

Rajat Dhar, Colleen Cotton, Jason Coleman, Diane Brockmeier, Dean Kappel, Gary Marklin, Robert Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Purpose: Corticosteroids are used to promote hemodynamic stability and reduce inflammatory organ injury after brain death. High-dose (HD) methylprednisolone has become the standard regimen based on comparisons to untreated/historical controls. However, this protocol may exacerbate hyperglycemia. Our objective was to compare a lower-dose (LD) steroid protocol (adequate for hemodynamic stabilization in adrenal insufficiency and sepsis) to the traditional HD regimen in the management of brain-dead organ donors. Methods: We evaluated 132 consecutive brain-dead donors managed before and after changing the steroid protocol from 15 mg/kg methylprednisolone (HD) to 300 mg hydrocortisone (LD). Primary outcome measures were glycemic control, oxygenation, hemodynamic stability, and organs transplanted. Results: Groups were balanced except for nonsignificantly higher baseline Pao2 in the LD cohort. Final Pao2 remained higher (394 mm Hg LD vs 333 mm Hg HD, P=03); but improvement in oxygenation was comparable (+37 mm Hg LD vs +28 mm Hg HD, P=43), as was the proportion able to come off vasopressor support (39% LD vs 47% HD, P=38). Similar proportions of lungs (44% vs 33%) and hearts (31% vs 27%) were transplanted in both groups. After excluding diabetics, median glucose values at 4 hours (170 mmol/L vs 188 mmol/L, P=06) and final insulin requirements (2.9 U/h vs 8.4 U/h, P=01) were lower with LD steroids; and more patients were off insulin infusions (74% LD vs 53% HD, P=02). Conclusions: A lower-dose corticosteroid protocol did not result in worsened donor pulmonary or cardiac function, with comparable organs transplanted compared with the traditional HD regimen. Insulin requirements and glycemic control were improved. High-dose methylprednisolone may not be required to support brain-dead donors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111.e1-111.e7
JournalJournal of Critical Care
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2013


  • Brain death
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Heart transplantation
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Lung transplantation
  • Organ procurement


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