Glucocorticoids provide a large, immediate improvement in the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. At doses acceptable for long-term treatment, however, symptoms gradually re-emerge. Relatively low doses of glucocorticoids can, for several years, substantially retard the rate of joint destruction shown on radiographs. This differential effect implies the coexistence of two pathologic processes within diseased joints. Long term, low dose glucocorticoid therapy probably increases the risk of serious adverse effects, but an evidence-based case can be made for the limited use of low dose glucocorticoid treatment in early disease.