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The benefits and adverse effects of corticosteroids in the treatment of severe community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) have not been well assessed. The aim of this systematic review of the literature and meta-analysis was to evaluate the clinical efficacy of adjuvant corticosteroid therapy in patients with severe CAP.The following databases were searched: PubMed, the Cochrane database, Embase, Wanfang, the China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), and the WeiPu (VIP) database in Chinese. Published randomized controlled clinical trial results were identified that compared corticosteroid therapy with conventional therapy for patients with severe CAP, up to November 2016. The relative risk (RR), weighted mean difference (WMD), and 95% confidence interval (CI) were evaluated. Statistical analysis was performed using STATA 10.0. The quality of the published studies was evaluated using the Oxford quality scoring system (Jadad scale).Ten randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were identified that included 729 patients with severe CAP. Data analysis showed that corticosteroid therapy did not have a statistically significant clinical effect in patients with severe CAP (RR: 1.19; 95% CI: 0.99–1.42), mechanical ventilation time (WMD: − 2.30; 95% CI: − 6.09–1.49). However, corticosteroids treatment was significantly associated with reduced in-hospital mortality (RR: 0.49; 95% CI: 0.29–0.85), reduced length of hospital stay (WMD: − 4.21; 95% CI: − 6.61 to − 1.81).Corticosteroids adjuvant therapy in patients with severe CAP may reduce the rate of in-hospital mortality, reduce the length of hospital stay, and reduce CRP levels.