Background: Dyslipidaemia has been described in non-treated rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and improves after therapy with disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs or glucocorticoids; however, it has generally been perceived that glucocorticoids adversely affect lipid metabolism. The association of low dose glucocorticoid therapy with plasma lipid levels was evaluated in female RA patients.
Materials and methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted in 78 female RA patients [mean age: 60 (12) years; mean disease duration: 13 (9) years]. Sixty-five (83%) were on glucocorticoid therapy [total equivalent mean prednisone dose: 5.1 (1.7) mg d(-1)]. Each patient was assessed through a self-reported questionnaire, structured interview and physical examination. Blood samples were obtained for routine biochemistry, lipid profile and haematological tests. Lipid profiles of RA patients who were and were not on glucocorticoid therapy were compared.
Results: Clinical and laboratory features of the two groups of patients were similar, except for the Health Assessment Questionnaire and body mass index, which were significantly higher in the patients on glucocorticoid therapy. These patients had 14.7% higher serum high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-c) levels than untreated patients (P = 0.043), mainly at the expense of HDL2 subfraction, which was 24.4% higher (P < 0.039), whereas HDL3-c was only 7.4% higher (P = 0.219). Serum levels of glucose and total cholesterol, triglyceride, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL -c), very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, apolipoproteins A-I and B were not increased in patients on glucocorticoid therapy.
Conclusions: Low dose glucocorticoid therapy in RA patients is associated with an increase in HDL-c, without increasing LDL-c or triglyceride. These lipid changes may overall be considered favourable.