Purpose: To compare the relative toxicities of six systemic immunosuppressive drugs and systemic corticosteroids used to treat patients with severe ocular inflammatory disease and to identify factors influencing their occurrence.
Methods: The authors reviewed the clinical records of 602 patients with ocular inflammatory disease treated with immunosuppressive drug therapy and/or systemic corticosteroids for adverse systemic effects while undergoing therapy. Proportional hazards regression analysis was performed to identify demographic and clinical factors that influence the occurrence of drug toxicity in these patients.
Results: Immunosuppressive drug treatment was more likely to result in discontinuation of therapy because of toxic side effects than was corticosteroid treatment. However, unlike many of the side effects of corticosteroid treatment, the side effects of immunosuppressive therapy were reversible with reduction in dosage or discontinuation of the drug. Gastrointestinal symptoms and hematologic abnormalities accounted for the majority of reported side effects of the immunosuppressive medications. Neuro-psychiatric and endocrine side effects were common in patients taking prednisone. In 17 patients treated with prednisone, pathologic fractures developed, which involved the hips and the spine. Female sex and age older than 60 years also were identified as factors associated with intolerance to drug therapy in the authors' study population. Race and type of systemic ocular disease were not significant factors influencing tolerance to drug therapy.
Conclusion: These findings suggest that when properly administered and monitored for adverse effects, most immunosuppressive agents used in the current study have similar risk profiles with relatively few serious therapeutic mishaps and largely reversible side effects. In contrast, corticosteroids can result in permanent disabilities as a result of long-term treatment.