Steroid avoidance or withdrawal for kidney transplant recipients

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Aug 22;(8):CD005632. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005632.pub3.


Background: Steroid-sparing strategies have been attempted in recent decades to avoid morbidity from long-term steroid intake among kidney transplant recipients. Previous systematic reviews of steroid withdrawal after kidney transplantation have shown a significant increase in acute rejection. There are various protocols to withdraw steroids after kidney transplantation and their possible benefits or harms are subject to systematic review. This is an update of a review first published in 2009.

Objectives: To evaluate the benefits and harms of steroid withdrawal or avoidance for kidney transplant recipients.

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Kidney and Transplant Specialised Register to 15 February 2016 through contact with the Information Specialist using search terms relevant to this review.

Selection criteria: All randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in which steroids were avoided or withdrawn at any time point after kidney transplantation were included.

Data collection and analysis: Assessment of risk of bias and data extraction was performed by two authors independently and disagreement resolved by discussion. Statistical analyses were performed using the random-effects model and dichotomous outcomes were reported as relative risk (RR) and continuous outcomes as mean difference (MD) with 95% confidence intervals.

Main results: We included 48 studies (224 reports) that involved 7803 randomised participants. Of these, three studies were conducted in children (346 participants). The 2009 review included 30 studies (94 reports, 5949 participants). Risk of bias was assessed as low for sequence generation in 19 studies and allocation concealment in 14 studies. Incomplete outcome data were adequately addressed in 22 studies and 37 were free of selective reporting.The 48 included studies evaluated three different comparisons: steroid avoidance or withdrawal compared with steroid maintenance, and steroid avoidance compared with steroid withdrawal. For the adult studies there was no significant difference in patient mortality either in studies comparing steroid withdrawal versus steroid maintenance (10 studies, 1913 participants, death at one year post transplantation: RR 0.68, 95% CI 0.36 to 1.30) or in studies comparing steroid avoidance versus steroid maintenance (10 studies, 1462 participants, death at one year after transplantation: RR 0.96, 95% CI 0.52 to 1.80). Similarly no significant difference in graft loss was found comparing steroid withdrawal versus steroid maintenance (8 studies, 1817 participants, graft loss excluding death with functioning graft at one year after transplantation: RR 1.17, 95% CI 0.72 to 1.92) and comparing steroid avoidance versus steroid maintenance (7 studies, 1211 participants, graft loss excluding death with functioning graft at one year after transplantation: RR 1.09, 95% CI 0.64 to 1.86). The risk of acute rejection significantly increased in patients treated with steroids for less than 14 days after transplantation (7 studies, 835 participants: RR 1.58, 95% CI 1.08 to 2.30) and in patients who were withdrawn from steroids at a later time point after transplantation (10 studies, 1913 participants, RR 1.77, 95% CI 1.20 to 2.61). There was no evidence to suggest a difference in harmful events, such as infection and malignancy, in adult kidney transplant recipients. The effect of steroid withdrawal in children is unclear.

Authors' conclusions: This updated review increases the evidence that steroid avoidance and withdrawal after kidney transplantation significantly increase the risk of acute rejection. There was no evidence to suggest a difference in patient mortality or graft loss up to five year after transplantation, but long-term consequences of steroid avoidance and withdrawal remain unclear until today, because prospective long-term studies have not been conducted.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Graft Rejection / immunology
  • Graft Rejection / prevention & control*
  • Graft Survival / drug effects
  • Graft Survival / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppression
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects
  • Kidney Transplantation* / mortality
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Steroids / administration & dosage*
  • Steroids / adverse effects
  • Withholding Treatment


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Steroids