Article Text

Corticosteroids and risk of gastrointestinal bleeding: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  1. Sigrid Narum1,2,
  2. Tone Westergren3,
  3. Marianne Klemp4,5
  1. 1Center for Psychopharmacology, Diakonhjemmet Hospital, Oslo, Norway
  2. 2Department of Pharmacology, Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway
  3. 3Department of Pharmacology, Regional Medicines Information & Pharmacovigilance Centre (RELIS), Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway
  4. 4Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services, Oslo, Norway
  5. 5Department of Pharmacology, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
  1. Correspondence to Sigrid Narum; sigrid.narum{at}


Objective To assess whether corticosteroids are associated with increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding or perforation.

Design Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised, double-blind, controlled trials comparing a corticosteroid to placebo for any medical condition or in healthy participants. Studies with steroids given either locally, as a single dose, or in crossover studies were excluded.

Data sources Literature search using MEDLINE, EMBASE and Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews between 1983 and 22 May 2013.

Outcome measure Outcome measures were the occurrence of gastrointestinal bleeding or perforation. Predefined subgroup analyses were carried out for disease severity, use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or gastroprotective drugs, and history of peptic ulcer.

Results 159 studies (N=33 253) were included. In total, 804 (2.4%) patients had a gastrointestinal bleeding or perforation (2.9% and 2.0% for corticosteroids and placebo). Corticosteroids increased the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding or perforation by 40% (OR 1.43, 95% CI 1.22 to 1.66). The risk was increased for hospitalised patients (OR 1.42, 95% CI 1.22 to 1.66). For patients in ambulatory care, the increased risk was not statistically significant (OR 1.63, 95% CI 0.42 to 6.34). Only 11 gastrointestinal bleeds or perforations occurred among 8651 patients in ambulatory care (0.13%). Increased risk was still present in subgroup analyses (studies with NSAID use excluded; OR 1.44, 95% CI 1.20 to 1.71, peptic ulcer as an exclusion criterion excluded; OR 1.47, 95% CI 1.21 to 1.78, and use of gastroprotective drugs excluded; OR 1.42, 95% CI 1.21 to 1.67).

Conclusions Corticosteroid use was associated with increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and perforation. The increased risk was statistically significant for hospitalised patients only. For patients in ambulatory care, the total occurrence of bleeding or perforation was very low, and the increased risk was not statistically significant.

  • Clinical Pharmacology
  • Epidemiology

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