Taking glucocorticoids by prescription is associated with subsequent cardiovascular disease

Ann Intern Med. 2004 Nov 16;141(10):764-70. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-141-10-200411160-00007.


Background: Glucocorticoids have adverse systemic effects, including obesity, hypertension, and hyperglycemia, that may predispose to cardiovascular disease. The effect of glucocorticoid use on cardiovascular disease has not been quantified.

Objective: To test the hypothesis that users of exogenous glucocorticoids have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

Design: A cohort study using a record linkage database.

Setting: Tayside, Scotland, United Kingdom.

Patients: 68,781 glucocorticoid users and 82,202 nonusers without previous hospitalization for cardiovascular disease who were studied between 1993 and 1996.

Measurements: The average daily dose of glucocorticoid exposure during follow-up was categorized as low (inhaled, nasal, and topical only), medium (oral, rectal, or parenteral <7.5 mg of prednisolone equivalent), or high (> or =7.5 mg of prednisolone equivalent). Poisson regression model, sensitivity analysis, and propensity score methods were used to investigate the association between glucocorticoid exposure and cardiovascular outcome.

Results: 4383 cardiovascular events occurred in 257,487 person-years of follow-up for a rate of 17.0 (95% CI, 16.5 to 17.5) per 1000 person-years in the comparator group, and 5068 events occurred in 212,287 person-years for a rate of 23.9 (CI, 23.2 to 24.5) per 1000 person-years in the group exposed to glucocorticoids (22.1, 27.2, and 76.5 in low, medium, and high groups, respectively). The absolute risk difference was 6.9 (CI, 6.0 to 7.7) per 1000 person-years (5.1, 10.1, and 59.4, respectively). After adjustment for known covariates, the relative risk for a cardiovascular event in patients receiving high-dose glucocorticoids was 2.56 (CI, 2.18 to 2.99).

Limitations: Because the data were observational, residual confounding cannot be excluded.

Conclusion: Treatment with high-dose glucocorticoids seemed to be associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / administration & dosage
  • Glucocorticoids / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Glucocorticoids