Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Lack of radiological and clinical benefit over two years of low dose prednisolone for rheumatoid arthritis: results of a randomised controlled trial


Background: Evidence for disease modifying activity of low dose corticosteroid treatment in rheumatoid arthritis is contradictory. Studies showing radiological benefit suggest that continued treatment is required to sustain the effect.

Objective: To evaluate the effect of low dose oral prednisolone in early rheumatoid arthritis on disease activity over two years.

Design: Double blind placebo controlled trial.

Methods: Patients with rheumatoid arthritis, duration <3 years (n = 167), were started on a disease modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD; sulphasalazine) and allocated by stratified randomisation to prednisolone 7 mg/day or placebo. Primary outcome measure was radiological damage, assessed by the modified Sharp method. Clinical benefit was a secondary outcome. A proactive approach to identifying and treating corticosteroid adverse events was adopted. Patients who discontinued sulphasalazine were offered an alternative DMARD.

Results: 90 of 257 patients eligible for the study refused to participate (more women than men). Of those enrolled, 84% were seropositive for rheumatoid factor, median age 56 years, median disease duration 12 months, female to male ratio 1.8:1. Prednisolone was given to 84 patients; of these 73% continued prednisolone and 70% sulphasalazine at 2 years. Of the 83 patients on placebo, 80% continued placebo and 64% sulphasalazine at 2 years. There were no significant differences in radiological score or clinical and laboratory measures at 0 and 2 years.

Conclusions: Low dose prednisolone conferred no radiological or clinical benefit on patients maintained on a DMARD over two years. Low dose corticosteroids have no role in the routine management of rheumatoid arthritis treated with conventional disease modifying drugs.

  • ACR, American College of Rheumatology
  • ARC, Arthritis Research Council
  • COBRA, combinatietherapie bij reumatoide artritis study
  • DMARD, disease modifying antirheumatic drug
  • HAQ, health assessment score
  • WOSERACT, West of Scotland early rheumatoid arthritis corticosteroid therapy study

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.