Continuing versus tapering low-dose glucocorticoids in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus in states of low disease activity or remission: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised trials

Andriko Palmowski, Anne Pankow, Kalina Terziyska, Sabrina M Nielsen, Robin Christensen, Henning Bliddal, Zhivana Boyadzhieva, Frank Buttgereit

Abstract

OBJECTIVES: To study the benefit and harm associated with continuing versus tapering low-dose glucocorticoids (GCs) in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) who have achieved low disease activity/remission.

METHODS: A protocolised (PROSPEROCRD42022325175) systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised trials was performed. Trials compared, in patients with low disease activity/remission and GCs at baseline, continued low-dose GCs (≤7.5 mg/d prednisone equivalent) with a taper. Co-primary outcomes were time to flare and adverse events (AEs), accompanied by secondary benefit and harm outcomes. We performed meta-analyses and evaluated risk of bias and quality of evidence (QoE). Subgroup analyses were conducted for patients with RA.

RESULTS: Four trials (three: RA; one: SLE; study duration 24-104 weeks) with 472 participants were included. Tapering GCs resulted in a shorter time to flare (hazard ratio 3.41 [95 %-CI 1.96-5.93]; p<0.01; very low QoE). The risks of AEs, serious AEs, and withdrawal due to AEs were similar in both groups (very low to low QoE). There were more withdrawals due to lack of efficacy with tapered GCs (risk ratio 3.02 [1.56-5.87]; low QoE). In RA, the disease activity score-28 was lower with continued GCs (mean difference 0.49 [0.07-0.91]; low QoE). One of 238 patients in the tapering groups experienced adrenal insufficiency. Subgroup analyses yielded consistent results.

CONCLUSION: In RA and SLE with low disease activity, continuing low-dose GCs may provide better sustained disease control, but QoE is insufficient. Adrenal insufficiency is very rare when tapering low-dose GCs. Longer-term safety concerns for GCs remain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number152349
JournalSeminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism
Volume64
Pages (from-to)152349
ISSN0049-0172
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024

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