Purpose: This consensus review article considers the question of whether glucocorticoid (GC) therapy is still relevant in the treatment of rheumatic diseases, with a particular focus on rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and whether its side effects can be adequately managed. Recent basic and clinical research on the molecular, cellular and clinical effects of GCs have considerably advanced our knowledge in this field. An overview of the subject seems appropriate.
Methods: This review is the result of a multidisciplinary expert working group, organised by European Society for Clinical and Economic Aspects of Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis. The recent literature was surveyed and the salient evidence synthetized.
Results: The pathophysiological basis of RA (and other inflammatory rheumatic diseases) now strongly implicates the adaptive immune system in addition to innate mechanisms. The molecular effect of GCs and differential GC sensitivity is better understood, although exploiting this knowledge is still in its infancy. The newer treatment strategies of early and aggressive control of RA have gr eatly improved clinical outcomes, but improvements are still possible. Newer targeted anti-inflammatory drugs have made an important impact, yet they too are associated with numerous side effects.
Discussion: Short durations of moderate doses of GCs are generally well tolerated and have a positive benefit/risk ratio. Patients should be assessed for fracture risk and bone preserving agents and be prescribed calcium and vitamin D supplementation.
Conclusions: Within a strategy of a disease modifying approach to inflammatory disease, combination therapy including a GC is effective approach.
Keywords: Cohort studies; Glucocorticoids; Inflammation; Osteoporosis; Rheumatic diseases; Rheumatoid arthritis.