Glucocorticoids (GCs) rapidly reduce disease activity in early and advanced rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This systematic review on behalf of the task force on recommendations for the management of RA addresses the efficacy of GCs in RA. A literature search was performed in Medline, Embase, the Cochrane database, and the ACR/EULAR abstracts 2007 and 2008 on a set of questions relating to the use of GCs in RA. Eleven publications (including three Cochrane reviews comprising 33 trials) that met the criteria for detailed assessment were found. Robust evidence that GCs are effective as bridging therapy was obtained. The addition of GCs, to either standard synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) monotherapy or combinations of synthetic DMARDs, yields clinical benefits and inhibition of radiographic progression that may extend over many years. In early RA, the addition of low-dose GCs (<7.5 mg/day) to DMARDs leads to a reduction in radiographic progression; in longstanding RA, GCs (up to 15 mg/day) improve disease activity. There is some evidence that appropriate timing of GC administration may result in less morning stiffness. Only indirect information was found on the best tapering strategy, supporting the general view that GCs should be tapered slowly in order to avoid clinical relapses. GCs are effective in relieving signs and symptoms and inhibiting radiographic progression, either as monotherapy or in combination with synthetic DMARD monotherapy or combination therapy.
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Competing interests None. Francis Berenbaum was the Handling Editor.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.