For the treatment of acute gout, corticosteroids may be as effective as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs but with fewer side effects, based on findings from a meta-analysis of six randomized, controlled trials.

“There is insufficient information to determine the comparative efficacy of corticosteroids and NSAID[s] to treat acute gout, while corticosteroids appear to have a more favorable safety profile for selected [adverse events],” Christy A. Billy, MD, of the University of Sydney and her coauthors wrote in their report published online in the Journal of Rheumatology (J Rheumatol. 2017 Aug. doi: 10.3899/jrheum.170137 ).

Two previous systematic reviews also suggested that corticosteroids may be therapeutically equivalent to but safer than NSAIDs, but both were based on a very small number of available studies and suffered from statistical between-trial heterogeneity.

The meta-analysis of six trials included a total of 817 patients. The trials had a mean follow-up of 15 days. Two trials were in hospitalized patients, two involved patients in the emergency department, one included outpatients, and one did not disclose the location of clinical presentation. Mean age of participants ranged from 44 years to 65.9 years, and the proportion of men ranged from 70% to 100%.

With respect to pain scores, the researchers found no significant difference between corticosteroid and NSAIDs within 7 days of treatment based on moderate-quality evidence from two randomized, controlled trials (RCTs) involving 534 patients (standardized mean difference = –0.09; 95% confidence interval, –0.26 to 0.08). There was also no difference between the two on pain after 7 or more days based on low-quality evidence from two RCTs of 506 patients (SMD = 0.32; 95% CI, –0.27 to 0.92). There was no evidence of statistical heterogeneity in the short-term trials, but there was evidence of significant heterogeneity in trials measuring treatment effects for 7 days or longer (P = .01; I2 [heterogeneity] = 85%).

Two RCTs of 173 patients gave low-quality evidence to show no difference between corticosteroids and NSAIDs in the rate of treatment response in the short term (relative risk, 1.07; 95% CI, 0.80-1.44; moderate heterogeneity, P = .15, I2 = 53%). One long-term study of the rate of treatment response provided similar results. There were also no between-group differences in joint swelling, erythema, tenderness, or activity limitations.

The investigators discovered that patients who took corticosteroids had a lower risk of indigestion in three RCTs with 526 patients (RR, 0.50; 95% CI, 0.27-0.92), nausea in three RCTs of 566 patients (RR, 0.25; 95% CI, 0.11-0.54), and vomiting in two RCTs totaling 506 patients (RR, 0.11; 95% CI, 0.02-0.56).

Patients taking corticosteroids had a higher risk of rash in two RCTs of 506 patients (RR, 4.62; 95% CI, 1.34-15.97). There was statistically significant heterogeneity in summary effects of treatment for total adverse events across all six studies (P = .04; I2 = 56%).

This meta-analysis was limited by the small number of clinical trials available for inclusion, which prevented the estimate of a number of outcomes and subgroup analyses. There was also a high risk of bias in many of the studies. Only half of the studies confirmed the diagnosis of gout by the presence of monosodium urate crystals within joint spaces. No studies reported on the effects of treatment on kidney function or injury.

The authors disclosed no source of funding or financial relationships.