Background: Corticosteroids are a well-established treatment for active Crohn's disease and have been widely used for decades. It has become apparent, however, that a proportion of patients either fails to respond to corticosteroids or is unable to withdraw from them without relapsing. Furthermore, their use is associated with a range of side effects, such that long-term treatment carries unacceptable risk.
Aim: To review the evidence regarding the appropriate use of corticosteroids in Crohn's disease, along with their side effects, safety and alternatives.
Methods: To collect relevant articles, a PubMed search was performed from 1966 to November 2006 using the terms 'steroid', 'corticosteroid', 'glucocorticoid', 'prednisolone', 'prednisone', 'methylprednisolone', 'hydrocortisone', 'dexamethasone' and 'budesonide' in combination with 'Crohn(s) disease'. Relevant articles were reviewed, as were their reference lists to identify further articles.
Results: When used correctly, corticosteroids are a highly effective, well tolerated, cheap and generally safe treatment for active Crohn' disease. Nevertheless, approximately 50% of recipients will either fail to respond (steroid-resistant) or will be steroid dependent at 1 year. Newer alternatives to corticosteroids are not, however, without risk themselves and, moreover, are not necessarily available universally.
Conclusions: Steroids are used widely to treat Crohn's disease, a situation that is unlikely to change in the near future. Accordingly, efforts should be made to ensure that they are used correctly and that their side effects are minimized. Reference is made to recently published guidelines and a simplified 'users guide' is presented.