Background: Tuberculous pericarditis is common in Transkei (Eastern Cape). Two randomized trials showed benefits at two years for prednisolone in patients with constrictive pericarditis, and open drainage plus prednisolone in patients with pericardial effusion.
Aim: To see whether the advantages of prednisolone and open drainage were maintained up to 10 years.
Design: Follow-up of randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials.
Methods: All 383 patients (143 constriction, 240 effusion) received the same anti-tuberculosis chemotherapy. They were randomized to prednisolone or placebo for the first 11 weeks, and were followed-up over 10 years. Among the 240 with effusion, 122 were also randomized to immediate open surgical drainage of pericardial fluid versus pericardiocentesis as required. Adverse outcomes were: death from pericarditis, pericardiectomy, repeat pericardiocentesis, and subsequent open drainage.
Results: The 10-year follow-up rate was 96%. In constriction patients, adverse outcomes occurred in 19/70 (27%) prednisolone vs. 28/73 (38%) placebo (p = 0.15), deaths from pericarditis being 2 (3%) vs. 8 (11%), respectively (p = 0.098, Fisher's exact test). In effusion patients, adverse outcomes occurred in 14/27 (52%) with neither drainage nor prednisolone, vs. 4/29 (14%) drainage and prednisolone, 4/35 (11%) drainage and placebo, and 6/31 (19%) prednisolone and no drainage (p = 0.08 for interaction). Drainage eliminated the need for repeat pericardiocentesis. In the 176 with effusion and no drainage, adverse outcomes occurred in 17/88 (19%) prednisolone vs. 35/88 (40%) placebo patients (p = 0.003), with repeat pericardiocentesis 20 (23%) placebo vs. 9 (10%) prednisolone (p = 0.025). In a multivariate survival analysis (stratified by type of pericarditis), prednisolone reduced the overall death rate after adjusting for age and sex (p = 0.044), and substantially reduced the risk of death from pericarditis (p = 0.004). At 10 years, the great majority of surviving patients in all treatment groups were either fully active or out and about, even if activity was restricted.
Discussion: In the absence of a clear contraindication, a corticosteroid should be used in addition to antituberculosis chemotherapy in the management of patients with tuberculous pericarditis.