Is enough attention being given to the adverse effects of corticosteroid therapy?

J Clin Pharm Ther. 2000 Jun;25(3):227-34. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2710.2000.00284.x.


Background: Although the corticosteroids are valuable anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive agents, they also possess many potential adverse effects, especially with continued use. In particular, long-term corticosteroid exposure carries a significant risk of osteoporosis.

Aim: To review the use of corticosteroids in patients presenting to the major teaching hospital in Tasmania, Australia; principally to determine whether patients receiving long-term corticosteroid therapy were being monitored for loss of bone mineral density and offered preventive therapy for osteoporosis.

Methods: A retrospective review of the medical records for 212 consecutive patients admitted to the medical wards of the hospital over a 5-month period and receiving treatment with either oral or inhaled corticosteroids, was performed. An extensive range of demographic and clinical variables was recorded for each patient. Patients were also questioned about diet and exercise, and whether they had undergone tests for measuring bone mineral density or blood glucose.

Results: The median age of the patients was 69 years (range: 15-90 years) and 58% were female. Over half (53%) of the patients were on oral corticosteroids only, with 26% using inhaled corticosteroids only, and 21% on both oral and inhaled corticosteroid therapy. The most common conditions for which patients were receiving corticosteroid therapy were asthma (37% of patients), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (33%) and rheumatoid arthritis (17%). The most commonly used oral corticosteroid was prednisolone (93%), the median daily dose was 10 mg prednisolone equivalent, and the median duration of oral corticosteroid treatment was 50 weeks. Disregarding short courses, the median duration of oral corticosteroid treatment was 104 weeks. Almost one-third (31%) of the patients receiving oral corticosteroid treatment had been taking the equivalent of 7.5 mg prednisolone daily for at least 6 months. Only 11% of all patients on oral corticosteroids and 21% of those who had been taking oral corticosteroids for at least one year had documented evidence of bone mineral density testing being performed in the past in the hospital. Only 21% of all patients on oral corticosteroids and 31% of those who had been taking oral corticosteroids for at least one year were receiving medication for osteoporosis prevention, and only 15% of women over 45 years of age and on oral corticosteroid therapy were taking hormone replacement therapy. Only about half of the patients on long-term systemic corticosteroid therapy had either documented evidence in their hospital medical records, or were aware, of having undergone blood glucose testing in the preceding 12 months.

Conclusion: More attention to the prevention and monitoring of possible adverse effects of long-term corticosteroid therapy is warranted. Guidelines covering preventive measures and treatment options for corticosteroid-induced osteoporosis need to be considered routinely when using these agents.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / administration & dosage
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / adverse effects*
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chemoprevention
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperglycemia / chemically induced
  • Long-Term Care
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoporosis / chemically induced*
  • Osteoporosis / prevention & control
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones