Background

High-dose corticosteroids have been used to attenuate the inflammatory response to cardiac surgery and cardiopulmonary bypass, but patient outcome benefits remain unclear. Our primary aim was to determine whether using dexamethasone was superior to not using dexamethasone to increase the number of home days in the first 30 days after cardiac surgery. Our secondary aim was to evaluate efficiency, value and impact of the novel trial design.

Methods

This pragmatic, international trial incorporating a prerandomized consent design favoring local practice enrolled patients undergoing cardiac surgery across 7 hospitals in Australia and The Netherlands. Patients were randomly assigned to dexamethasone, 1 mg/kg, or not (control). The primary outcome was the number of days alive and at home up to 30 days after surgery (“home days”). Secondary outcomes included prolonged mechanical ventilation (>48 h), sepsis, renal failure, myocardial infarction, stroke and death.

Results

Of 2093 patients assessed for eligibility, 1951 were randomized (median age 63 years, 80% male). The median number of home days was 23.0 (IQR, 20.1 to 24.1) in the dexamethasone group and 23.1 (IQR, 20.1 to 24.6) in the no dexamethasone group; median difference 0.1 (95% CI, -0.3 to 0.5), P=0.66. The rates of prolonged mechanical ventilation, RR 0.72 (95% CI, 0.48 to 1.08), sepsis, RR 1.02 (95% CI, 0.57 to 1.82), renal failure, RR 0.94 (95% CI, 0.80 to 1.12), myocardial infarction, RR 1.20 (95% CI, 0.30 to 4.82), stroke, RR 1.06 (95% CI, 0.54 to 2.08), and death, RR 0.72 (95% CI, 0.22 to 2.35), were comparable between groups (all P>0.10). Dexamethasone reduced intensive care unit stay, median 29 (IQR, 22 to 50) h vs. 43 (24 to 72) h, P=0.004. Our novel trial design was highly efficient (89.3% enrolment).

Conclusions

Among patients undergoing cardiac surgery, high-dose dexamethasone decreased intensive care unit stay but did not increase the number of home days after surgery.

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