Systemic glucocorticoid therapy: a review of its metabolic and cardiovascular adverse events

Drugs. 2014 Oct;74(15):1731-45. doi: 10.1007/s40265-014-0282-9.


The prevalence of use of long-term systemic glucocorticoid therapy in the general adult population is 1 %. This figure increases to up to 3 % in elderly women. Metabolic (i.e. diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, weight gain, lipodystrophy) and cardiovascular (i.e. hypertension, cardiovascular events) adverse events are commonly observed in these patients and can be life threatening. Paradoxically, there is very few data on some of these adverse events and many of the available studies remain inconclusive. Incidence of and risk factors for dyslipidemia, weight gain and lipodystrophy are poorly defined. The optimal treatment plan for patients diagnosed with glucocorticoid-induced diabetes or hypertension is undetermined. Finally, there is no medical consensus on the best strategies for the prevention and detection of these complications. However, certain of these questions can be answered by looking at available data on patients with endogenous hypercortisolism (i.e. Cushing's syndrome). This article reviews the pathophysiology, incidence, risk factors, screening, and treatment of glucocorticoid-induced weight gain, lipodystrophy, diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and cardiovascular events. It also focuses on the possible prevention of these adverse events by targeting the glucocorticoid receptor using selective glucocorticoid receptor modulators.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / chemically induced
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / prevention & control
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / therapy
  • Glucocorticoids / adverse effects*
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Diseases* / chemically induced
  • Metabolic Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Metabolic Diseases* / prevention & control
  • Metabolic Diseases* / therapy


  • Glucocorticoids