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Certain perspectives about the use of corticosteroids for managing hospitalized patients with rheumatic diseases

Author

Clin Rheumatol. 2020 Aug 24. doi: 10.1007/s10067-020-05349-0.Online ahead of print.

Sky Wang 1, Richard S Panush 2

Author Information

1 Division of Rheumatology, Department of Medicine, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California and Los Angeles County + University of Southern California (LAC+USC) Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA, USA.

2 Division of Rheumatology, Department of Medicine, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California and Los Angeles County + University of Southern California (LAC+USC) Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA, USA. panush@usc.edu.

Abstract

The administration of cortisone to a bedridden patient with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) 70 years ago was a transformative event in modern medicine. We have since struggled to balance the near-miraculous anti-rheumatic with the yet all-too-frequent devastating side effects of glucocorticoids (GC). With the current availability of newer disease-modifying and biologic anti-rheumatic agents, we were rather surprised to note that 94% of sick hospitalized patients with systemic rheumatic diseases at our medical center were on corticosteroids during a 3-month observation period. Comparing contemporary with past practices from historical references, we confirmed a perhaps paradoxical trend of increasing steroid usage in certain contexts over the years. Sixty-seven percent of our hospitalized lupus patients were started on GC of greater than 30 mg prednisone equivalent compared with 50% in the 1950s. Seventy-five percent of our RA inpatients had their GC dose increased on discharge. Both (2/2) our new RA patients were started on GC, compared with 69% in the 2000s and just 36% in the 1990s. This likely reflects both improved abilities to keep sick patients alive and inability of other anti-rheumatic therapies to consistently induce or sustain disease remission compared with the usually highly efficacious yet inexpensive GC in these particular patients. Administration of glucocorticoids to ill, often infected, patients with systemic rheumatic diseases remains more art than science. Current perspectives view glucocorticoids as considerably less salutary than previously thought; we are still challenged to keep our patients from developing preventable complications. These observations emphasize the need for more and better therapeutic alternatives to glucocorticoids. There are now several examples-disease-modifying and biologic medications for RA and biologics for lupus and vasculitis-that suggest the possibility of caring for our patients without the historical reliance on corticosteroids. We have made enormous progress since steroids were first offered to a patient with RA in 1948. We are hopeful the future will bring us interventions of comparable or better efficacy that are safer.