Effect of total cholesterol and statin therapy on mortality in ARDS patients: a secondary analysis of the SAILS and HARP-2 trials

Shaun M. Pienkos, Andrew R. Moore, Jiazhen Guan, Joseph E. Levitt, Michael A. Matthay, Rebecca M. Baron, John Conlon, Daniel F. McAuley, Cecilia M. O’Kane, Angela J. Rogers*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Two acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) trials showed no benefit for statin therapy, though secondary analyses suggest inflammatory subphenotypes may have a differential response to simvastatin. Statin medications decrease cholesterol levels, and low cholesterol has been associated with increased mortality in critical illness. We hypothesized that patients with ARDS and sepsis with low cholesterol could be harmed by statins.

Secondary analysis of patients with ARDS and sepsis from two multicenter trials. We measured total cholesterol from frozen plasma samples obtained at enrollment in Statins for Acutely Injured Lungs from Sepsis (SAILS) and Simvastatin in the Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (HARP-2) trials, which randomized subjects with ARDS to rosuvastatin versus placebo and simvastatin versus placebo, respectively, for up to 28 days. We compared the lowest cholesterol quartile (< 69 mg/dL in SAILS, < 44 mg/dL in HARP-2) versus all other quartiles for association with 60-day mortality and medication effect. Fisher’s exact test, logistic regression, and Cox Proportional Hazards were used to assess mortality.

There were 678 subjects with cholesterol measured in SAILS and 509 subjects in HARP-2, of whom 384 had sepsis. Median cholesterol at enrollment was 97 mg/dL in both SAILS and HARP-2. Low cholesterol was associated with higher APACHE III and shock prevalence in SAILS, and higher Sequential Organ Failure Assessment score and vasopressor use in HARP-2. Importantly, the effect of statins differed in these trials. In SAILS, patients with low cholesterol who received rosuvastatin were more likely to die (odds ratio (OR) 2.23, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.06–4.77, p = 0.02; interaction p = 0.02). In contrast, in HARP-2, low cholesterol patients had lower mortality if randomized to simvastatin, though this did not reach statistical significance in the smaller cohort (OR 0.44, 95% CI 0.17–1.07, p = 0.06; interaction p = 0.22).

Cholesterol levels are low in two cohorts with sepsis-related ARDS, and those in the lowest cholesterol quartile are sicker. Despite the very low levels of cholesterol, simvastatin therapy seems safe and may reduce mortality in this group, though rosuvastatin was associated with harm.
Original languageEnglish
Article number126
JournalCritical Care
Issue number1
Early online date28 Mar 2023
Publication statusEarly online date - 28 Mar 2023


  • Research
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • Sepsis
  • Statins
  • Cholesterol
  • Critical care


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