Purpose: Organ damage in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients is highly associated with the use of corticosteroids. Doses of prednisone below 6 mg daily are associated with reduced organ damage. We now report on the largest prospective cohort study of predictors of prednisone tapering in SLE patients.
Methods: A total of 866 SLE patients (91% female, 50% Caucasian, 43% African-American, mean age 43 years) who consented for the Hopkins Lupus Cohort from 1987 through 2009 were included. The analysis was based on patient visits in which the previously prescribed dose of prednisone was 5 mg/day. We then examined the proportion of times the patient's dose was reduced to below 5 mg/day ("tapering"). Among those patients who tapered and were followed for at least one year thereafter, we examined the proportion whose prednisone dose remained below 5 mg/day for at least one year ("Successful tapering"). Rates of tapering and successful tapering were calculated for patient subsets based on demographic and clinical characteristics.
Result: The analyses showed that Caucasians, younger patients, patients with a higher level of education, lower disease activity, or absence of urine protein were more likely to have a prednisone taper. However, successful tapering was not dependent on age, ethnicity, or education. As expected, successful tapering was more frequent in those with lower disease activity. Successful tapering was achieved more often after the year 2000.
Conclusion: Our study suggests that successful tapering of prednisone below 5 mg has increased since the year 2000, which may reflect the greater knowledge of the long-term harm of even low-dose chronic corticosteroid use. Caucasians, younger age, higher level of education, and absence of proteinuria predicted tapering, but not successful tapering. Ongoing cutaneous or arthritis activity were associated with unsuccessful tapering. Lack of disease activity, as expected, was the only major clinical variable that significantly predicted successful tapering.
Keywords: SLE; SLEDAI; corticosteroids; organ damage.