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Study: steroids can save traumatic brain injury patients

Studies have shown that a person who suffers a serious injury takes on additional risks when they enter a hospital.

For people who sustain a traumatic brain injury, there is a very real, dangerous risk of developing pneumonia after hospital admission. In fact, new research indicates that "the overall rate of post-traumatic pneumonia reaches an incidence of 40 percent to 60 percent" among brain injury patients.

The risk can be significantly reduced by treating patients with the steroid hydrocortisone, according to the study published in the new issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For those trauma patients, pneumonia can lengthen the amount of time they receive mechanical ventilation, stretch out their hospital stay and even increase the likelihood of death.

The report by French researchers shows that use of the steroid can decrease both the frequency and seriousness of hospital-acquired pneumonia.

The research was conducted on 150 brain trauma patients between 2006 and 2009. Some randomly selected patients were given hydrocortisone treatments, while others were given placebos.

Of those who received the placebos, 51 percent developed pneumonia by the end of a month in the hospital. Of those who received the steroid treatment, the figure dropped to under 36 percent.

Patients on steroids also spent less time receiving mechanical ventilation, less time in the intensive care units and had reduced risks of developing respiratory illnesses or injuries.

While the results of the study hold out promise for better treatment of brain injury victims, some doctors have struck a cautionary note, saying that because the French study didn't include a large enough group of patients, no hard and fast rules for new treatments should be created because of it.

Resource: Business Week: "Steroid May Help Cut Pneumonia Risk After Brain Trauma": March 22, 2011

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