Short-term low-dose corticosteroids vs placebo and nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs in rheumatoid arthritis

P C Gotzsche, H K Johansen


BACKGROUND: The effect of low dose corticosteroids, equivalent to 15 mg prednisolone daily or less, in patients with rheumatoid arthritis has been questioned. We performed a systematic review of trials which compared corticosteroids with placebo or non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs.

OBJECTIVES: To determine whether short-term (i.e. as recorded within the first month of therapy), oral low-dose corticosteroids (corresponding to a maximum of 15 mg prednisolone daily) is superior to placebo and non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

SEARCH STRATEGY: PubMed, The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL ), reference lists were searched until February 2004.

SELECTION CRITERIA: All randomised studies comparing an oral corticosteroid (not exceeding an equivalent of 15 mg prednisolone daily) with placebo or a non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drug were eligible if they reported clinical outcomes within one month after start of therapy. For adverse effects, long-term trials and matched cohort studies were also selected.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Decisions on which trials to include were made independently by two observers based on the methods sections of the trials. Standardised mean difference (random effects model) was used for the statistical analyses.

MAIN RESULTS: Ten studies, involving 320 patients, were included. Prednisolone had a marked effect over placebo on joint tenderness (standardised mean difference 1.30, 95% confidence interval 0.78 to 1.83), pain (1.75, 0.87 to 2.64) and grip strength (0.41, 0.13 to 0.69). Measured in the original units, the differences were 12 tender joints (6 to 18) and 22 mm Hg (5 to 40) for grip strength. Prednisolone also had a greater effect than non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs on joint tenderness (0.63, 0.11 to 1.16) and pain (1.25, 0.26 to 2.24), whereas the difference in grip strength was not significant (0.31, -0.02 to 0.64). Measured in the original units, the differences were 9 tender joints (5 to 12) and 12 mm Hg (-6 to 31). The risk of adverse effects, also during moderate- and long-term use, seemed acceptable.

REVIEWERS' CONCLUSIONS: Prednisolone in low doses (not exceeding 15 mg daily) may be used intermittently in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, particularly if the disease cannot be controlled by other means. Since prednisolone is highly effective, short-term placebo controlled trials studying the clinical effect of low-dose prednisolone or other oral corticosteroids are no longer necessary.

TidsskriftCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Udgave nummer3
Sider (fra-til)CD000189
StatusUdgivet - 2004
Udgivet eksterntJa


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