Oral glucocorticoids and incidence of hypertension in people with chronic inflammatory diseases: a population-based cohort study

CMAJ. 2020 Mar 23;192(12):E295-E301. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.191012.


Background: Only a few population-based studies have examined the association between glucocorticoids and hypertension, with inconsistent results. We aimed to investigate the effect of oral glucocorticoids on incidence of hypertension in adults with chronic inflammatory diseases.

Methods: We analyzed electronic health records from 389 practices in England during 1998-2017 of adults diagnosed with any of 6 chronic inflammatory diseases but with no previous diagnosis of hypertension. We used glucocorticoid prescription data to construct time-variant daily and cumulative variables of prednisolone-equivalent dose (cumulated from 1 year before the start of follow-up) and estimated incidence rates and adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) for hypertension using Cox regression analysis.

Results: Among 71 642 patients in the cohort, 24 896 (34.8%) developed hypertension during a median follow-up of 6.6 years. The incidence rate of hypertension was 46.7 (95% confidence interval [CI] 46.0-47.3) per 1000 person-years. Incidence rates increased with higher cumulative glucocorticoid prednisolone-equivalent dose, from 44.4 per 1000 person-years in periods of nonuse to 45.3 per 1000 person-years for periods with between > 0.0 and 959.9 mg (HR 1.14, 95% CI 1.09-1.19), to 49.3 per 1000 person-years for periods with 960-3054.9 mg (HR 1.20, 95% CI 1.14-1.27), and to 55.6 per 1000 person-years for periods with ≥ 3055 mg (HR 1.30, 95% CI 1.25-1.35). Cumulative effects were seen for the 6 diseases studied, but dose-response effects were not found for daily dose.

Interpretation: Cumulative dose of oral glucocorticoids was associated with increased incidence of hypertension, suggesting that blood pressure should be monitored closely in patients routinely treated with these drugs. Given that glucocorticoids are widely prescribed, the associated health burden could be high. Trial registration: ClinicalTrials. gov, no. NCT03760562.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Electronic Health Records
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / administration & dosage
  • Glucocorticoids / adverse effects*
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / chemically induced
  • Hypertension / epidemiology*
  • Incidence
  • Inflammation / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Population Surveillance
  • Prednisolone / administration & dosage
  • Prednisolone / adverse effects*
  • Prednisolone / therapeutic use*
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Prednisolone

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03760562