Steroids may provide benefits to all patients with tuberculosis (TB), not just some of them, according to new research by a UK team that published their results in the March issue of medical journal The Lancet. Because of their potential side effects, lead author Julia Critchley said that doctors have often debated whether to routinely prescribe the steroids, instead preferring to give them only when TB attacks the spine or the heart.
The UK team reviewed 41 previous TB trials to analyze the results, including over 3,500 patients who took the steroids and over 2,900 who didn’t. The kind of steroids, as well as the dosage, differed over the years, but all patients receiving steroids had a 17 percent lower death rate than those who didn’t — even if they had pulmonary tuberculosis, which some doctors currently don’t treat with steroids.
Sometimes it seems as if the news is all bad all the time about steroids. The sports world has been rocked multiple times by scandals involving the use of performance-enhancing drugs to cheat. South African police seized performance-enhancing drugs and ordered blood tests for steroids after Paralympics runner Oscar Pistorius was charged with murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.
Perhaps more significant to doctors, a study published in 2005 suggested that victims of brain injuries who received steroids actually had a higher risk of death than patients who didn’t.
However, because of the stunning worldwide infection rates of TB, it’s important not to close any doors. A World Health Organization (WHO) report said that there were almost nine million new cases of TB reported in 2011. About 1.4 million people died of the disease — including almost one million who didn’t have the additional burden of carrying the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
With TB on the rise in some populations, it’s important to figure out how to treat it effectively. Anti-TB drugs, combined with steroids, may offer hope in the ongoing battle.