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Death risk linked to steroid use for arthritis

Thu Oct 5, 2006

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Patients with rheumatoid arthritis who are treated with low-dose steroids for more than 10 years have are more likely to die than patients who are less exposed to these drugs, according to a report published in the Journal of Rheumatology.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the body's own immune system attacks the joint lining. The potentially crippling illness can cause pain and joint stiffness on both sides of the body. Treatment typically involves the use of drugs that reduce pain and swelling, such as prednisone, a commonly used steroid.

In the new study, Dr. Susanna Sihvonen, of Tampere University Hospital, Finland, and colleagues analyzed death rates in 604 rheumatoid arthritis patients, whose state of health, other diseases, and arthritis severity and treatments were originally recorded in 1988. In 1999, vital status and causes of death were assessed.

The team compared mortality in 209 patients who had not received steroids, 276 who were treated with steroids for less than 10 years, and 119 patients who were treated with steroids for more than 10 years. Patients in this last group were significantly more likely to die during follow-up than those in the other groups.

The risk of death was increased by 14 percent for each year of steroid treatment and by 69 percent with treatment over 10 years compared to patients not treated with glucocorticoids.

Heart disease and stroke were the major causes of death in all groups. However, it appeared to be infections and other causes that accounted for the higher risk of death in long-term steroid users.

SOURCE: Journal of Rheumatology, September 2006.

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