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Anti-inflammatory treatment for carditis in acute rheumatic fever.

BACKGROUND: Rheumatic heart disease remains the most important cause of acquired heart disease in developing countries. Although the prevention of rheumatic fever and the management of recurrences is well established the optimal management of active rheumatic carditis is still unclear.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects of anti-inflammatory agents such as aspirin, corticosteroids and immunoglobulin for preventing or reducing further heart valve damage in patients with acute rheumatic fever.

SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register (Issue 4, 2000), MEDLINE (1966 to April 2002), EMBASE (1998 to November 2002), LILACS (1998 to November 2002), Index Medicus (1950 to December 2000) and references lists of identified studies.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials comparing anti-inflammatory agents (e.g. aspirin, steroids, immunoglobulins) with placebo or controls, or comparing any of the anti-inflammatory agents with one another, in patients with acute rheumatic fever diagnosed according to the Jones, or modified Jones criteria. The presence of cardiac disease one year after treatment was the major outcome criteria selected.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two reviewers independently extracted data and assessed trial quality.

MAIN RESULTS: Eight randomised controlled trials involving 996 people were included. Several steroidal agents viz. ACTH, cortisone, hydrocortisone, dexamethasone and prednisone, and intravenous immunoglobulin were compared to aspirin, placebo or no treatment in the various studies. Six of the trials were conducted between 1950 and 1965, whilst the remaining two were done in the last 10 years. Overall there was no significant difference in the risk of cardiac disease at one year between the corticosteroid-treated and aspirin-treated groups (relative risk 0.87, 95% confidence interval 0.66 to 1.15). Similarly use of prednisone (relative risk 1.78, 95% confidence interval 0.98 to 3.34) or intravenous immunoglobulins (relative risk 0.87, 95%confidence interval 0.55 to 1.39) when compared to placebo did not reduce the risk of developing heart valve lesions at one year.

REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: There is no benefit in using corticosteroids or intravenous immunoglobulins to reduce the risk of heart valve lesions in patients with acute rheumatic fever. The antiquity of most of the trials restricted adequate statistical analysis of the data and acceptable assessment of clinical outcomes by current standards. New randomised controlled trials in patients with acute rheumatic fever to assess the effects of corticosteroids such as oral prednisone and intravenous methylprednisone, and other new anti-inflammatory agents are warranted. Advances in echocardiography will allow for more objective and precise assessment of cardiac outcomes.

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