Incidence and US costs of corticosteroid-associated adverse events: a systematic literature review

Clin Ther. 2011 Oct;33(10):1413-32. doi: 10.1016/j.clinthera.2011.09.009. Epub 2011 Oct 13.


Objective: The objective of this systematic literature review was to evaluate the incidences and risks for adverse events (AEs) associated with oral and parenteral corticosteroids. An assessment was performed to estimate the costs of such AEs.

Methods: A systematic review of literature published from 2007 to 2009 was conducted to identify the incidence rates and risk ratios of corticosteroid-related AEs. The review protocol was developed according to PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines. The literature search was expanded to include additional search terms for psychiatric conditions, infections, and peptic ulcers. Costs obtained from a separate narrative literature review were applied to AEs likely to affect third-party payers in the United States.

Results: A total of 357 publications were identified from the primary (n = 323) and secondary (n = 34) searches. Of these, 310 were excluded because they did not evaluate AEs related to corticosteroids, were an excluded publication type, or for other reasons. A final list of 47 studies were used for data extraction. Across patient populations, the most frequently reported corticosteroid-associated AEs were psychiatric events, infections, gastric conditions, and fractures. Corticosteroid-associated AEs reported to occur at an incidence >30% were sleep disturbances, lipodystrophy, adrenal suppression, metabolic syndrome, weight gain, and hypertension. Vertebral fractures were reported at an incidence of 21% to 30%. Dose-response relationships were documented for fractures, acute myocardial infarction, hypertension, and peptic ulcer. The costs of managing AEs that may occur with corticosteroids can be substantial. The literature reported 1-year per-patient costs of up to $26,471.80 for nonfatal myocardial infarction, and per-event costs as high as $18,357.90 for fracture. The findings from the present review should be interpreted cautiously due to several limitations, including the retrospective design of most of the studies identified, risk for confounding due to underlying disease activity or patient population, and the relatively small number of studies that reported each AE association. As this cost analysis was preliminary, a comprehensive pharmacoeconomic analysis should be undertaken to confirm the findings.

Conclusion: Based on the findings from this review, systemic corticosteroids are a common cause of AEs that may be costly to payers.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / adverse effects*
  • Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting Systems
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / economics*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones