Fifteen-year nationwide trends in systemic glucocorticoid drug use in Denmark

Eur J Endocrinol. 2019 Sep;181(3):267-273. doi: 10.1530/EJE-19-0305.


Objective: Glucocorticoid treatment of inflammatory disorders is associated with significant adverse effects related to glucocorticoid excess as well as adrenal insufficiency. This necessitates awareness of its use. We therefore investigated trends in systemic glucocorticoid use as well as morbidity and comedications among users.

Design: Cross-sectional drug utilisation study.

Methods: We conducted a population-based study of 926,314 users of systemic glucocorticoids (oral and injectable formulations) from 1999 to 2014 using Danish nationwide registries. We computed annual prevalence and incidence of systemic glucocorticoid use and prevalence of comedications and morbidity. Further, we assessed the annual amount of disease-modifying drug use.

Results: Of the 926,314 users of systemic glucocorticoids, 54% were female and median age at first-time use was 55 years. The annual prevalence was ≈ 3%, while the incidence was ≈ 1.4/100 person years (p-y). Both figures remained constant from 1999 to 2014. In the elderly, the annual prevalence was 6.7-7.7% (60-79 years of age) and 9.7-11% (≥80 years of age). Incidence increased among persons aged ≥80 years from 3.0/100 p-y in 1999 to 3.6/100 p-y in 2014. Concomitantly, the annual amount of for example methotrexate, azathioprine and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha agents increased and new biological agents emerged. The most frequent comedications were antibiotics (49%), cardiovascular drugs (38%) and NSAIDs (37%).

Conclusions: Our findings confirm a widespread use of systemic glucocorticoids, especially in the elderly, which prevails despite increased use of disease-modifying drugs. The continuously prevalent use of glucocorticoid use constitutes a challenge for the endocrine community.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenal Insufficiency / chemically induced
  • Adrenal Insufficiency / diagnosis
  • Adrenal Insufficiency / epidemiology
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / administration & dosage*
  • Glucocorticoids / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Inappropriate Prescribing / adverse effects*
  • Inappropriate Prescribing / prevention & control
  • Inappropriate Prescribing / trends*
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Registries*
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Glucocorticoids