Long-term Systemic Corticosteroid Exposure: A Systematic Literature Review

Clinical Therapeutics. Nov 2017;39(11):2216-2229


While corticosteroids are relatively inexpensive and commonly used as treatment for a variety of conditions, long-term use is known to be associated with certain toxicities. Prior systematic reviews have revealed an increased risk for costly adverse events (AEs), including bone fracture, infection, and gastrointestinal bleeding. The objective of this study was to conduct a systematic literature review of recent publications on the burden of long-term corticosteroid exposure, specifically, to summarize the AEs and economic impact of long-termcorticosteroid use and to reveal data gaps for additional research.


The Ovid search platform was used to access scientific literature databases. The search strategy targeted the use of corticosteroids and economic outcomes research. Articles were restricted to those published between 2007 and 2016 to cover publications since prior reviews; conference abstracts and articles assessing pediatrics were excluded. Titles and abstracts resulting from inclusion criteria were screened, and reviewers independently extracted relevant information from the relevant full-text articles.


The literature review included 32 articles, with 75% focusing on autoimmune diseases, asthma, or lung diseases. Included articles were 14 database analyses, 6 simulations, 6 clinical trials, 3 systematic literature reviews, 2 patient surveys, and 1 chart review. Commonly-cited AEs associated with long-term corticosteroid exposure included hypertension (prevalence >30%); bone fracture (21%-30%); cataract (1%-3%); nausea, vomiting, and other gastrointestinal conditions (1%-5%); and metabolic issues (eg, weight gain, hyperglycemia, and type 2 diabetes; cases had 4-fold the risk of controls). Association of dose and duration with increased AE risk is not well-quantified. AEs like peptic ulcer and myocardial infarction are particularly costly to payers (1-year cost of $21,825 and $26,472, respectively, in year-2009 USD). The few articles assessing the economic impact of corticosteroid use have found dose-related increases in health care resource utilization and costs, with per-annum incremental costs relative to nonusers ranging from $5700 in low-dose users (<7.5 mg d) to $29,000 in high-dose users (>15 mg/d). Adherence to treatment guidelines on avoiding AEs (eg, prescribing of oral bisphosphonates, calcium, and vitamin D) remains low.


Although doses of long-term corticosteroids have fallen over the past several decades in response to AEs, dose reduction may not be a sufficient solution. Numerous AEs, some very costly, persist among long-term corticosteroid users, suggesting a need for further research to fill current data gaps, as well as a potential need for alternative treatment options.

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Rice JB, White AG, Scarpati LM, Wan G, Nelson WW