Lack of association between glucocorticoid use and presence of the metabolic syndrome in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a cross-sectional study

Tracey E. Toms, Vasileios F. Panoulas, Karen M.J. Douglas, Helen R Griffiths, George D. Kitas

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Introduction - Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) associates with excessive cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, attributed to both traditional and novel cardiovascular risk factors. The metabolic syndrome, a cluster of classical cardiovascular risk factors, including hypertension, obesity, glucose intolerance, and dyslipidaemia, is highly prevalent in RA. Reports suggest that long-term glucocorticoid (GC) use may exacerbate individual cardiovascular risk factors, but there have been no studies in RA to assess whether it associates with the metabolic syndrome. We examined whether GC exposure associates with the presence of metabolic syndrome in patients with RA.

Methods - RA patients (n = 398) with detailed clinical and laboratory assessments were categorised into three groups according to GC exposure: no/limited (<3 months) exposure (NE), low-dose (<7.5 mg/day) long-term exposure (LE), and medium-dose (greater than or equal to 7.5 mg to 30 mg/day) long-term exposure (ME). The metabolic syndrome was defined using the National Cholesterol Education Programme III guidelines. The association of GC exposure with the metabolic syndrome was evaluated using binary logistic regression.

Results - The metabolic syndrome was present in 40.1% of this population and its prevalence did not differ significantly between the GC exposure groups (NE 37.9% versus LE 40.7% versus ME 50%, P = 0.241). Binary logistic regression did not demonstrate any increased odds for the metabolic syndrome when comparing ME with LE (odds ratio = 1.64, 95% confidence interval 0.92 to 2.92, P = 0.094) and remained non significant after adjusting for multiple potential confounders.

Conclusions - Long-term GC exposure does not appear to associate with a higher prevalence of the metabolic syndrome in patients with RA. The components of the metabolic syndrome may already be extensively modified by other processes in RA (including chronic inflammation and treatments other than GCs), leaving little scope for additive effects of GCs.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberR145
JournalArthritis Research and Therapy
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2008

Bibliographical note

© 2008 Toms et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • aged
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • cross-sectional studies
  • female
  • glucocorticoids
  • humans
  • male
  • metabolic syndrome X
  • middle aged


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