Doctors weigh in on steroid used to treat President Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis

Posted at 7:26 PM, Oct 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-05 19:26:36-04

TAMPA, Fla. — President Donald Trump’s doctors revealed some of the treatments they’re using to battle his COVID-19 diagnosis. During an update Monday afternoon, his physicians said the President would continue taking the drug dexamethasone.

Dexamethasone is a steroid primarily working as an anti-inflammatory agent. The President’s doctors gave him the drug therapy in response to two temporary drops in his oxygen levels.

Dr. Charles Lockwood, the dean of USF Health’s Morsani College of Medicine, says the steroid is most commonly used for patients on a ventilator or in the ICU.

“Dexamethasone is really the only agent that’s been shown to reduce deaths from COVID,” said Dr. Lockwood. “All the other agents are helpful. They reduce the duration of illness, like remdesivir, but dexamethasone is the single most effective agent that is used in critically ill patients, usually in the ICU with COVID-19.”

Dexamethasone can still have side effects. The World Health Organization (WHO) says the steroid is generally safe, but with prolonged use, side effects could include “glaucoma, cataract, fluid retention, hypertension, psychological effects (e.g., mood swings, memory issues, confusion or irritation), weight gain, or increased risk of infections and osteoporosis.”

The WHO says those adverse effects aren’t associated with short-term use.

“He seemed to be in pretty reasonably good shape when they started it and so you don’t necessarily have all those additional factors that can affect your brain function and your mood and so forth, so it’s probably a much safer context to be treating him,” said Dr. Lockwood.

Dr. Lockwood thinks the President is a special case and is getting this kind of medical treatment out of an abundance of caution. He reminds people that this treatment is not typical for those who are newly diagnosed.

“These are not the kind of treatments you would expect if you get a new diagnosis and you might have some coughs or a little bit of shortness of breath,” said Lockwood. “We’re not going to be starting you on remdesivir, monoclonal antibodies, or dexamethasone. You’re probably going to stay home until there’s concern enough to bring you into the hospital.”