Septic shock is the 13th leading cause of death in the United States. The rate of severe sepsis nearly doubled and mortality increased more than 60% during the 10-year period ending in 2003. Systemic inflammatory response syndrome has noninfectious and infectious causes. Noninfectious ones include burns, trauma, severe pancreatitis, and therapy with monoclonal antibodies or immunomodulatory drugs such as interleukin 2. Progression from sepsis syndrome to septic shock is caused by a series of immune responses. As an infectious injury progresses, host activation of the coagulation, immunological, and stress response systems ensues, resulting in tissue hypoperfusion and organ failure. Early studies with small numbers of patients suggest that treatment with low-dose corticosteroids has marked beneficial effects on shock reversal, the immune system, and the hemodynamic profile. Low-dose corticosteroids should only be administered to a subset of patients with septic shock who are unresponsive to fluid replacement and vasopressor therapy.

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