Background: It is uncertain whether the growth impairment that occurs in children during long-term treatment with glucocorticoids persists after the medication is discontinued and ultimately affects adult height.
Methods: We evaluated growth six to seven years after alternate-day treatment with prednisone had been discontinued in 224 children 6 to 14 years of age with cystic fibrosis who had participated in a multicenter trial of this therapy from 1986 through 1991. Of the children, 151 had been randomly assigned to receive prednisone (either 1 or 2 mg per kilogram of body weight) and 73 to receive placebo. We obtained data on growth up to 1997 from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Patient Registry and standardized the data to sex- and age-specific norms from the National Center for Health Statistics. We used z scores to compare growth patterns among treatment groups.
Results: In 1997, 68 percent of the patients were 18 years of age or older. The z scores for height declined during prednisone therapy; catch-up growth began two years after treatment with prednisone was discontinued. Among the boys, the z scores for height in those treated with prednisone remained lower than the scores for those who received placebo (P=0.02). The mean heights for boys 18 years of age or older were 4 cm less in the prednisone groups than in the placebo group, an equivalent of 13 percentile points (P=0.03). Among the girls, differences in height between those who were treated with prednisone and those who received placebo were no longer present two to three years after prednisone therapy was discontinued.
Conclusions: Among children with cystic fibrosis who have received alternate-day treatment with prednisone, boys, but not girls, have persistent growth impairment after treatment is discontinued.