Corticosteroid therapy in pulmonary sarcoidosis: a systematic review

JAMA. 2002 Mar 13;287(10):1301-7. doi: 10.1001/jama.287.10.1301.


Context: Corticosteroids are used in pulmonary sarcoidosis to reduce symptoms and minimize long-term damage. Spontaneous recovery is a common feature. Both the decision to initiate therapy and the treatment response may be influenced by disease severity, so trials need to use a randomized controlled design.

Objective: To assess the effect of oral and inhaled corticosteroids on chest radiograph results, symptoms, pulmonary function, and long-term outcome in pulmonary sarcoidosis.

Data sources: MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register were searched all years through December 2001. Bibliographies of review articles and retrieved articles were searched, and pharmaceutical companies and authors of identified trials were contacted for other studies. There was no language restriction.

Study selection: Trials were randomized and included a control group. Participants were adults with histologic evidence of pulmonary sarcoidosis. Treatments included the use of oral and inhaled corticosteroids for at least 8 weeks. The search identified 150 studies; 9 met the inclusion criteria, but only 8 provided usable data.

Data extraction: Two reviewers assessed trial quality using the Jadad score, which evaluates the quality of randomization, blinding, and reasons for withdrawal. Data were extracted and sent to primary authors for verification.

Data synthesis: In patients with stage 2 and 3 disease, oral corticosteroids improved findings on the chest radiograph after 6 to 24 months (Peto odds ratio, 2.54; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.69-3.81; P<.001). Forced vital capacity improved with oral corticosteroids (weighted mean difference [WMD], 4.2% predicted; 95% CI, 0.4%-7.9% predicted) and diffusing capacity also improved (WMD, 5.7% predicted; 95% CI, 1.0%-10.5% predicted). In 2 small studies of inhaled corticosteroids, there was no effect on chest radiograph and inconsistent effects on lung function in one and only a small improvement in symptoms in the other. There were no data following corticosteroid withdrawal to assess any disease-modifying effect.

Conclusions: Oral corticosteroids improved results on the chest radiograph following 6 to 24 months of treatment and produced a small improvement in vital capacity and diffusing capacity. Trials of inhaled corticosteroids were small and results too inconsistent to make firm conclusions concerning their efficacy. There are no data to suggest that corticosteroid therapy alters long-term disease progression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Glucocorticoids / administration & dosage
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Radiography
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sarcoidosis, Pulmonary / diagnostic imaging
  • Sarcoidosis, Pulmonary / drug therapy*
  • Sarcoidosis, Pulmonary / physiopathology
  • Steroids
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vital Capacity


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Steroids