Glucocorticoids and irreversible damage in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2014 Aug;53(8):1470-6. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/keu148. Epub 2014 Mar 27.


Objective: The aim of this study was to analyse the relationship between glucocorticoids and damage accrual in SLE.

Methods: We report an observational cohort study including 230 patients with SLE enrolled at diagnosis with 5 years of follow-up. Damage was calculated using the SLICC damage index. Glucocorticoid-related damage was defined as avascular osteonecrosis, osteoporotic fractures, diabetes mellitus or cataracts. Prednisone doses were calculated at the end of the fourth year of follow-up (prednisone-4). A categorical prednisone-4 variable was constructed: no prednisone, ≤7.5 mg/day (low dose), >7.5 mg/day (medium-high dose). The relationship between methylprednisolone pulses and damage was also tested.

Results: By the fifth year, 188 patients (82%) had been treated with prednisone. Eighty-seven patients (37.8%) had accrued damage at 5 years. Patients with damage at year 5 had received a higher mean daily prednisone-4 dose (10.4 vs 6 mg/day, P < 0.001). The mean daily prednisone-4 dose was higher in patients accruing glucocorticoid-attributable damage (11 vs 7 mg/day, P = 0.04). Patients taking medium-high doses of prednisone-4 had a higher risk of accruing damage than those taking no prednisone [adjusted odds ratio (OR) 5.39, 95% CI 1.59, 18.27]. Patients taking medium-high doses of prednisone-4 were more likely to develop glucocorticoid-related damage than those on no prednisone (adjusted OR 9.9, 95% CI 1.1, 84). No differences were seen between patients on low doses and those on no prednisone. The cumulative dose of i.v. methylprednisolone-4 was not associated with global or glucocorticoid-related damage.

Conclusion: Prednisone causes damage in SLE. Doses <7.5 mg/day and methylprednisolone pulses are not associated with damage accrual.

Keywords: avascular osteonecrosis; cataract; diabetes mellitus; glucocorticoids; methylprednisolone; osteoporosis; prednisone; systemic lupus erythematosus.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cataract / chemically induced*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus / chemically induced*
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / adverse effects*
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteonecrosis / chemically induced*
  • Osteoporotic Fractures / chemically induced*
  • Prednisone / adverse effects*
  • Prednisone / therapeutic use
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Young Adult


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Prednisone