Corticosteroids for pulmonary sarcoidosis

Sarcoidosis is a common disease that can affect several parts of the body. The cause of the disease is unknown, and it often gets better without treatment. Sarcoidosis is more likely among some ethnic groups (including African-Americans and African-Caribbeans), for whom the disease has worse outcomes. When sarcoidosis affects the lungs, it can cause breathlessness, coughs, and lung problems, and lead to more complications and death. The review of trials found that using corticosteroids for lung sarcoidosis leads to some short-term benefit in terms of chest x-ray, but there is limited evidence that this benefit lasts or affects the long term outcomes of the disease.

Authors' conclusions: 

Oral steroids improved the chest X-ray and a global score of CXR, symptoms and spirometry over 3-24 months. However, there is little evidence of an improvement in lung function. There are limited data beyond two years to indicate whether oral steroids have any modifying effect on long-term disease progression. Oral steroids may be of benefit for patients with Stage 2 and 3 disease with moderate to severe or progressive symptoms or CXR changes.

Read the full abstract...

Pulmonary sarcoidosis is a common condition with an unpredictable course. Oral (OCS) or inhaled steroids (ICS) are widely used in its treatment, but there is no consensus about when and in whom therapy should be initiated, what dose should be given and for how long. Corticosteroids given for several months have deleterious side-effects so it is important to know whether they have any maintained benefit in pulmonary sarcoidosis.


To determine the randomised controlled trial (RCT) evidence for the benefit of corticosteroids (oral or inhaled) in the treatment of pulmonary sarcoidosis.

Search strategy: 

CENTRAL, MEDLINE, and EMBASE were searched using predefined terms. Bibliographies of retrieved RCTs and reviews were searched for additional RCTs. Pharmaceutical companies and authors of identified RCTs were contacted for other published and unpublished studies. Searches are current as of May 2008.

Selection criteria: 

Two reviewers independently assessed full text articles for inclusion based upon the following criteria: the study had to be a RCT or controlled clinical trial in adults with histological evidence of pulmonary sarcoidosis, treated with OCS (oral steroids) or ICS (oral steroids), compared with a control.

Data collection and analysis: 

Study quality was assessed and data extracted independently by two reviewers. The primary outcome was CXR (chest x-ray). Outcomes were analysed as continuous and dichotomous outcomes, using standard statistical techniques. Heterogeneity was explored where it was identified.

Main results: 

Thirteen RCTs of variable quality involving 1066 participants met the inclusion criteria of the review. The oral steroid dose was equivalent to prednisolone 4-40 mg/day. OCS: there was an improvement in CXR over 3-24 months (Relative Risk (RR): 1.46 [1.01 to 2.09], 3 studies), but this finding requires cautious interpretation. No other significant differences were identified on secondary outcomes. ICS: Data were inadequate to perform meaningful analysis of data on CXR. Two studies showed no improvement in lung function, In one study there was an improvement in diffusing capacity in the treated group. There were no data on side-effects. In one study symptoms improved at the end of six months of treatment.

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