Patients taking long-term, low-dose glucocorticoids for rheumatoid arthritis over 2 years had a very modest relative weight gain but no relative increase in blood pressure when compared with patients who did not take the drugs, according to findings from a combined study of randomized, controlled trials (RCTs).
“Thisof five RCTs in RA found that 2 years of low-dose glucocorticoid treatment [at 7.5 mg/day or less] leads to a modest weight gain of about 1 kg but has no effect on blood pressure,” lead study author , a physician and researcher in rheumatology and clinical immunology at Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, and colleagues wrote in the study, published in Annals of Internal Medicine.
“Many clinicians fear using even low-dose glucocorticoids because of the adverse effects associated with their long-term use at higher doses,” noted, professor of medicine, pathology, microbiology, and immunology, and director of the division of rheumatology and immunology at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.
“Indeed, long-term use of even these low doses increases risk for many significant adverse effects, including osteoporosis and cataracts in observational cohorts,” added Dr. Crofford, who was not involved in the study.
Studies were combined for stronger results
Observational studies are prone to confounding, and the RCTs in the literature have been small, resulting in low statistical power, the authors explained.
To overcome these limitations, Dr. Palmowski and associates combined individual participant data from five RCTs of glucocorticoid treatment for RA in 12 countries in Europe. The 1,112 participants had early and established RA, averaged 61.4 years of age, and 68% were women. The, an RCT that contributed about 40% of the overall study population, “explicitly included elderly patients and patients with multimorbidity who are often excluded from RA trials,” the authors wrote.
Participants in the intervention group took low-dose glucocorticoids (equivalent, ≤ 7.5 mg/day; three trials used a dose of 5 mg prednisone equivalent per day); and patients in the control groups took placebo, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, or both. The researchers compared change over 2 years in body weight and mean arterial pressure between the groups.
At 2 years, both groups gained weight, but participants who took glucocorticoids gained an average of 1.1 kg (P < .001) more than the controls. Mean arterial pressure increased by around 2 mm Hg in both groups, with a –0.4 mm Hg between-group difference (P = .187).
, professor of clinical medicine in the division of rheumatology at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, found this “a fascinating analysis” and called the lack of change in blood pressure important.
“Steroids are used less in RA due to perceived side effects. Yet many patients have ongoing synovitis and need steroids to enable them to work and perform other activities,” said Dr. Arkfeld, who also was not involved in the study. “NSAIDs are more of an issue, with up to 10% raising blood pressure. Should we be using more steroids and less NSAIDs?”
Dr. Arkfeld also was concerned that the small 2-year weight gain may become significant over time.
, associate professor of medicine at Duke University, Durham, N.C., agreed.
“More investigations and longer (or shorter) time periods may have yielded additional findings,” said Dr. Huffman, who also was not involved in the study. “Efforts should be made to minimize long-term prednisone use to minimize impact on weight gain and resulting consequences.”