BACKGROUND: The effect of low dose corticosteroids, equivalent to 15 mg prednisolone daily or less, in patients with rheumatoid arthritis has been questioned. We therefore performed a systematic review of trials which compared corticosteroids with placebo or non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. OBJECTIVES: To determine whether short-term (i.e. as recorded within the first month of therapy), oral low-dose corticosteroids (corresponding to a maximum of 15 mg prednisolone daily) is superior to placebo and nonsteroidal, antiinflammatory drugs in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. SEARCH STRATEGY: Medline Silverplatter, The Cochrane Controlled Trials Register, reference lists and a personal archive. SELECTION CRITERIA: All randomised studies comparing an oral corticosteroid (not exceeding an equivalent of 15 mg prednisolone daily) with placebo or a nonsteroidal, antiinflammatory drug were eligible if they reported clinical outcomes within one month after start of therapy. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Decisions on which trials to include were made independently by two observers based on the methods sections of the trials only. Standardised effect measures were used for the statistical analyses; the random effects model was used if P<0.10 for the test of heterogeneity. MAIN RESULTS: Ten studies, involving 320 patients, were included in the meta-analysis. Prednisolone had a marked effect over placebo on joint tenderness (standardised effect size 1.31, 95% confidence interval 0.78 to 1.83), pain (standardised effect size 1.75, 0.87 to 2.64) and grip strength (standardised effect size 0.41, 0.13 to 0.69). Measured in the original units, the differences were 12 tender joints (6 to 18) and 22 mm Hg (5 to 40) for grip strength. Prednisolone also had a greater effect than nonsteroidal, antiinflammatory drugs on joint tenderness (standardised effect size 0.63, 0.11 to 1.16) and pain (standardised effect size 1.25, 0.26 to 2.24), whereas the difference in grip strength was not significant (standardised effect size 0.31, -0.02 to 0.64). Measured in the original units, the differences were 9 tender joints (5 to 12) and 12 mm Hg (-6 to 31). The risk of adverse effects, also during moderate- and long-term use, seemed acceptable. REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Prednisolone in low doses (not exceeding 15 mg daily) may be used intermittently in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, particularly if the disease cannot be controlled by other means. Since prednisolone is highly effective, short-term placebo controlled trials studying the clinical effect of low-dose prednisolone or other oral corticosteroids are no longer necessary.
Gøtzsche, P. C., & Johansen, H. K. (2005). Short-term low-dose corticosteroids vs placebo and nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs in rheumatoid arthritis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd000189.pub2