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QJM. 2000 Feb;93(2):105-11.

Use of oral corticosteroids in the United Kingdom.

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  • 1Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals, Staines, UK.


Administration of oral corticosteroids is associated with the development of osteoporosis and an increased risk of fractures. However, the size of the treated sub-population who would benefit from preventive therapy remains uncertain. The objective of this study was to investigate the usage pattern of oral corticosteroids in a large sample representative of the general population in England and Wales. Information was obtained from the General Practice Research Database (GPRD) which contains medical records of general practitioners. Oral corticosteroid users were patients aged 18 years or older who received one or more prescriptions for oral corticosteroids. Over 1.6 million oral corticosteroid prescriptions were issued to the cohort of 244 235 oral corticosteroid users. At any point in time, oral corticosteroids were being used by 0.9% of the total adult GPRD population. The highest use (2.5%) was by people between 70 and 79 years of age. Respiratory disease was the most frequently recorded indication for oral corticosteroid treatment (40%). Patients with arthropathies were most likely to use long-term, continuous treatment, and patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease least likely (19.3% and 6.1%, respectively, used oral corticosteroids for more than 2 years). The overall use of bone-active medication (oestrogens, bisphosphonates, vitamin D, and calcitonin) during oral corticosteroid treatment was low (between 4.0% and 5.5%). The current population in the UK at risk of developing corticosteroid-induced fractures might be as large as 350 000. Identification of these patients will be important for implementing preventive strategies in a cost-effective manner.

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