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The value of glucocorticoid co-therapy in different rheumatic diseases--positive and adverse effects.

Glucocorticoids play a pivotal role in the management of many inflammatory rheumatic diseases. The therapeutic effects range from pain relief in arthritides, to disease-modifying effects in early rheumatoid arthritis, and to strong immunosuppressive actions in vasculitides and systemic lupus erythematosus. There are multiple indications that adverse effects are more frequent with the longer use of glucocorticoids and use of higher dosages, but high-quality data on the occurrence of adverse effects are scarce especially for dosages above 10 mg prednisone daily. The underlying rheumatic disease, disease activity, risk factors and individual responsiveness of the patient should guide treatment decisions. Monitoring for adverse effects should also be tailored to the patient. Continuously balancing the benefits and risks of glucocorticoid therapy is recommended. There is an ongoing quest for new drugs with glucocorticoid actions without the potential to cause harmful effects, such as selective glucocorticoid receptor agonists, but the application of a new compound in clinical practice will probably not occur within the next few years. In the meantime, basic research on glucocorticoid effects and detailed reports on therapeutic efficacy and occurrence of adverse effects will be valuable in weighing benefits and risks in clinical practice.

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