Eighty-two consecutive patients with moderate-to-severe and active Graves' ophthalmopathy were randomly treated with orbital radiotherapy combined with either oral (prednisone; starting dose, 100 mg/d; withdrawal after 5 months) or iv (methylprednisolone; 15 mg/kg for four cycles and then 7.5 mg/kg for four cycles; each cycle consisted of two infusions on alternate days at 2-wk intervals) glucocorticoids. The two groups did not differ for age, gender, duration of hyperthyroidism and ophthalmopathy, prevalence of smokers, thyroid volume, and pretreatment ocular conditions. Both groups of patients received radioiodine therapy shortly before treatment for Graves' ophthalmopathy. Follow-up lasted for 12 months. A significant reduction in proptosis (from 23.2 +/- 3.0 to 21.6 +/- 1.2 mm in the iv glucocorticoid group, P < 0.0001; and from 23 +/- 1.8 to 21.7 +/- 1.8 mm in oral glucocorticoid group, P < 0.0001) and in lid width (from 13.3 +/- 2.5 to 11.8 +/- 2.2 mm, and from 13.6 +/- 2.0 to 11.5 +/- 1.9 mm, respectively; P < 0.001 in both cases) occurred, with no difference between the two groups. Diplopia significantly improved in both groups: it disappeared in 13 of 27 (48.1%) iv glucocorticoid patients (P < 0.005) and in 12 of 33 (36.4%) oral glucocorticoid patients (P < 0.03). The degree of amelioration of diplopia did not significantly differ between the two groups (P = 0.82). Optic neuropathy improved in 11 of 14 iv glucocorticoid (P < 0.01) and only in 3 of 9 oral glucocorticoid (P = 0.57) patients, with no significant difference in these outcomes. The Clinical Activity Score decreased from 4.5 +/- 1.2 to 1.7 +/- 1.0 (P < 0.0001) in the iv glucocorticoid group and from 4.2 +/- 1.1 to 2.2 +/- 1.2 (P < 0.0001) in the oral glucocorticoid group; final Clinical Activity Score was significantly lower in iv glucocorticoid than in oral glucocorticoid patients (P < 0.01). By self-assessment evaluation, 35 (85.3%) iv glucocorticoid and 30 (73.2%) oral glucocorticoid patients reported an improvement of ocular conditions (P = 0.27). Overall, both treatments produced favorable effects in most patients, but responders in the iv glucocorticoid group (36 of 41, 87.8%) were more than in the oral glucocorticoid group (26 of 41, 63.4%) (P < 0.02). Moreover, iv glucocorticoid treatment was better tolerated than oral glucocorticoid treatment. Side effects occurred in 23 (56.1%) iv glucocorticoid and 35 (85.4%) oral glucocorticoid patients (P < 0.01); in particular, cushingoid features developed in 5 of the former and 35 of the latter patients. One iv glucocorticoid patient had severe hepatitis of undetermined origin at the end of glucocorticoid treatment, followed by spontaneous recovery. In conclusion, high-dose iv glucocorticoid and oral glucocorticoid (associated with orbital radiotherapy) are effective in the management of severe Graves' ophthalmopathy, but the iv route seems to be more effective and better tolerated than the oral route and associated with a lower rate of side effects.