Since their introduction for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, corticosteroids have become widely used as effective agents in the control of inflammatory diseases. Although there have been undoubted benefits upon mortality in diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, many patients survive only to suffer a high incidence of premature atherosclerosis. There is also evidence of increased rates of vascular mortality in other corticosteroid-treated diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, reversible airways obstruction and transplant recipients. Possible mechanisms of damage include elevated blood pressure, impaired glucose tolerance, dyslipidaemia, and imbalances in thrombosis and fibrinolysis. This paper reviews the clinical evidence supporting the contention that there is an excess cardiovascular mortality in steroid-treated patients and the underlying mechanisms, and points to further areas of research.
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