Safety and efficacy associated with long-term low-dose glucocorticoids in rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Andriko Palmowski, Sabrina M Nielsen, Zhivana Boyadzhieva, Abelina Schneider, Anne Pankow, Linda Hartman, José A P Da Silva, John Kirwan, Siegfried Wassenberg, Christian Dejaco, Robin Christensen, Maarten Boers, Frank Buttgereit


OBJECTIVES: The aim of this study was to assess the safety and efficacy of long-term low-dose glucocorticoids (GCs) in RA.

METHODS: A protocolised systematic review and meta-analysis (PROSPERO No. CRD42021252528) of double-blind, placebo-controlled randomised trials (RCTs) comparing a low dose of GCs (≤ 7.5mg/day prednisone) to placebo over at least 2 years was performed. The primary outcome investigated was adverse events (AEs). We performed random-effects meta-analyses and used the Cochrane RoB tool and GRADE to assess risk of bias and quality of evidence (QoE).

RESULTS: Six trials with 1078 participants were included. There was no evidence of an increased risk of AEs (incidence rate ratio 1.08; 95% CI 0.86, 1.34; P = 0.52); however, the QoE was low. The risks of death, serious AEs, withdrawals due to AEs, and AEs of special interest did not differ from placebo (very low to moderate QoE). Infections occurred more frequently with GCs (risk ratio 1.4; 1.19-1.65; moderate QoE). Concerning benefit, we found moderate to high quality evidence of improvement in disease activity (DAS28: -0.23; -0.43 to -0.03), function (HAQ -0.09; -0.18 to 0.00), and Larsen scores (-4.61; -7.52 to -1.69). In other efficacy outcomes, including Sharp van der Heijde scores, there was no evidence of benefits with GCs.

CONCLUSION: There is very low to moderate QoE for no harm with long-term low dose GCs in RA, except for an increased risk of infections in GC users. The benefit-risk ratio might be reasonable forusing low-dose long-term GCs considering the moderate to high quality evidence for disease-modifying properties.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRheumatology (Oxford, England)
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)2652-2660
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2023


  • Humans
  • Glucocorticoids/adverse effects
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid/drug therapy
  • Prednisone/therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


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