Many news sources recently reported that new research suggests that the negative effects of taking low-doses of steroids may be modest and that taking steroids at early onset can significantly minimize joint damage from Rheumatoid Arthritis. Researchers in Britain recently completed a review of 15 previously published studies including more than 1400 patients that focused on the effects of treating RA with glucocorticoids (steroids such as prednisone).
For years, doctors have tried to avoid prescribing high doses of steroids to patients over extended periods of time because of the health risks involved. High doses have been proven to contribute to osteoporosis, heart disease, cataracts, weight gain, high blood sugar and high blood pressure. Because of this, there is concern about prescribing them at any level, low or high, over the long-term.
But after considering all of the evidence before them, these researchers believe that patients should have the option of taking low doses of steroids along with DMARDs. Most of the studies that the researchers reviewed treated patients with a combination of these drugs for one to two years. All of the studies except one showed that steroids reduced the progression of joint erosion in patients with RA. This was measured with x-rays and other tests. The researchers and news articles were careful to note, however, that just because there is evidence of slower joint damage, that does not necessarily mean that patients will see progress in their long-term functioning. X-rays and similar types of tests show only physical damage and don’t reflect daily swelling or pain and their effects on daily functioning.
Also, while the research suggests that the side effects of low-dose steroids might be modest, the scientists also noted that further research needs to be conducted to look for adverse reactions, long-term negative effects of low dosages and the usefulness of using steroids to treat patients who have had RA for more than 3 years.
About 12 years ago, before the new wave of RA drugs came out, my rheumatologist prescribed prednisone for me several times when I had acute flares. I remember I took it for no more than 10-14 days at a time in a progressively smaller dose each day. It seem to work to stop the acuteness of my knee swelling, though I still had to have one knee aspirated twice. Since then, none of my physicians have considered prednisone in my treatment. I also have a sibling who took it for quite a long time to treat acute asthma symptoms. Have you taken prednisone or another type of steroid to treat your RA? Was it helpful or did you suffer from any side effects? Share your experiences on the RA Message Boards.
Published On: February 16, 2007