Thursday, May 24, 2012

Steroids Help Unfreeze Bell's Palsy

 Early treatment with the corticosteroid prednisolone appeared to significantly reduce mild to moderate sequelae in Bell's palsy as judged by two scoring systems, according to results from a large Scandinavian trial.
As measured by the Sunnybrook scoring system, among more than 800 patients randomized to 1 of 4 treatment groups, those who received prednisolone had a significant reduction in mild to moderate impaired facial function at 12 months (P<0.001) compared with those who did not receive the steroid, Thomas Berg, MD, PhD, of Oslo University Hospital Rikshospitalet in Norway, and colleagues reported.
The difference between patients who received prednisolone and those did not in two House-Brackmann gradings levels was also significant (P<0.001 and P=0.01, respectively), Berg and co-authors wrote in the May issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery.
Two of the treatment groups also received the antiviral valacyclovir (Valtrex), but no significant differences were found in those groups, they added.
The cause of Bell's palsy, which damages the facial cranial nerve and affects up to 40,000 Americans, is unknown.
One theory is that reactivation of a latent herpes simplex virus may cause inflammation and injury to the facial nerve, Berg and his co-authors noted, adding that treatment has been based on this theory.
About 70% of Bell's palsy patients recover completely within 6 months without any treatment, the authors noted. The remaining 30% have varying degrees of sequelae with functional, psychosocial, and aesthetic disturbances.
And despite some data that prednisolone improved complete recovery rates, large controlled studies on the effect of corticosteroids (and any additive effect of antivirals) were lacking.
To help correct this information deficit, the researchers recruited 829 patients (341 women and 488 men) over a 5-year period. They ranged in age from 18 to 75 and were enrolled at 17 public referral centers involved in the Swedish and Finnish Scandinavian Bell's Palsy Study, a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial.
The patients were randomized within 72 hours in a factorial fashion to placebo plus placebo (n=206); prednisolone, 60 mg/d for 5 days, with the dosage then tapered for 5 days, plus placebo (n=210); valacyclovir hydrochloride, 1,000 mg 3 times daily for 7 days, plus placebo (n=207); or prednisolone plus valacyclovir (n=206).
The researchers then evaluated facial functioning at 12 months, using two separate grading systems -- Sunnybrook and House-Brackmann.
The Sunnybrook system, considered the more sensitive of the two, evaluates resting symmetry, degree of voluntary movement, and synkinesis to form a composite score, for which 0 indicates complete paralysis and 100, normal function.
The House-Brackmann system consists of a 6-grade scale (I to VI), in which I indicates normal function and VI, complete paralysis.
Follow-up visits were between days 11 to 17 and at 1, 2, 3, 6, and 12 months after randomization. If the recovery was complete (defined as a Sunnybrook score of 100) at 2 or 3 months, the next follow-up was at 12 months. Patients were grouped according to severity of sequelae by both scoring systems at 12 months.
In 184 of the 829 patients, the Sunnybrook score was less than 90 at 12 months; 71 had been treated with prednisolone and 113 had not (P<0.001).
In 98 patients, the Sunnybrook score was less than 70; 33 had received prednisolone and 65 had not (P<0.001), Berg and colleagues wrote.
The difference between patients who received prednisolone and who did not in House-Brackmann gradings higher than I and higher than II was also significant (P<0.001 and P=0.01, respectively).
No significant difference was found between patients who received prednisolone and those who did not in Sunnybrook scores less than 50 (P=0.10) or House-Brackmann grades higher than III (P=0.80).
Synkinesis was assessed with the Sunnybrook score in 743 patients. Among those, 96 patients had a synkinesis score more than 2, of whom 33 had received prednisolone and 63 had not (P=0.001). There were 60 patients who had a synkinesis score more than 4, of whom 22 had received prednisolone and 38 had not (P=.005).
The authors cited several limitations to their study.
"Subgroup analyses led to a reduction of patients in the analysis groups, which makes statistical comparisons more hazardous" they wrote. Nor did they "make the distinction between incomplete and complete palsy at baseline," but analyzed the median baseline scoring levels, which were found to be similar in the different treatment groups.
The investigators concluded that while "treatment with prednisolone significantly reduced mild and moderate sequelae in Bell's palsy at 12 months, prednisolone did not reduce the number of patients with severe sequelae," and valacyclovir had no effect.

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