ORLANDO, Florida — Prednisolone treatment of patients with adrenal insufficiency is associated with significantly elevated total-and low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels compared with use of an alternative glucocorticoid, hydrocortisone, new data suggest.
Real-world data from the European Adrenal Insufficiency Registry (EU-AIR) were presented on April 2 here at ENDO 2017: The Endocrine Society Annual Meeting by Robert D Murray, MBBS, consultant endocrinologist and honorary associate professor at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, United Kingdom.
In an interview, Dr Murray told Medscape Medical News, "In addition to previous data showing that prednisolone can cause lower bone mass, we've now shown that it may raise cholesterol to a higher degree than hydrocortisone."
Asked to comment, session moderator Constantine A Stratakis, MD, chief medical officer of the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, Bethesda, Maryland, said: "These are significant findings. I think that the difference he's seeing may be mostly due to the differences in how glucocorticoids are metabolized locally in the liver and fat tissues."
Regarding clinical implications, Dr Stratakis said, "These data point to the need for using hydrocortisone. Clearly, at these doses anyway, you have increases in LDL and cholesterol with prednisolone."
Indeed, the new findings support recent recommendations from the Endocrine Society to use hydrocortisone as first-line glucocorticoid replacement therapy for primary adrenal insufficiency.
But the huge cost difference between the two generic medications has led some to suggest otherwise. In 2014, the BMJ published editorials arguing both for and against the preferred use of prednisolone.
During his presentation, Dr Murray reported that in the United Kingdom, an annual supply of 5-mg prednisolone (one tablet a day) costs about £16 and 3 mg (three 1-mg tablets a day) about £48, compared with £1910 for a year's supply of twice-daily 10-mg hydrocortisone.
(Hydrocortisone is also considerably more expensive than prednisolone in the United States, although the differential isn't quite as dramatic.)
Dr Murray pointed out that about 75% of the patients in the database were taking 5 mg/day of prednisolone and that although that's within the recommended range (3–5 mg/day), it might be too much. "I suspect this isn't related to the steroid use, but that we may actually have gotten the doses wrong, and we may need a smaller dose of prednisolone. I think probably in reality the ideal dose is probably nearer to 3.5 to 4 mg. Therefore, I think we may be slightly overtreating these people and both the bone mass and the cholesterol may be a reflection of that.
"I think for now we have to stay with hydrocortisone as our mainstay of treating adrenal insufficiency, but I think more studies need to be done in patients taking 3.5 to 4.0 mg to then look at the effects on cholesterol, bone mass, and other markers….It would be quite a significant saving if we were able to move patients to prednisolone," he added.
Dr Stratakis commented, "I have to say the price difference to me is amazing." Asked about Dr Murray's dose hypothesis, he responded, "It is possible we may be giving more prednisolone than we should. Also, there might be important differences in the handling of glucocorticoids at the tissue level, in fat and liver, specifically, that we don't account for."
Hydrocortisone vs Prednisolone
Beginning his presentation, Dr Murray noted that data on risk factors for cardiovascular disease in patients with adrenal insufficiency treated with prednisolone are scarce, despite this condition being the predominant cause of excess mortality, and so in this analysis he and his colleagues aimed to address this gap in the literature.
EU-AIR is a prospective, observational study, initiated in August 2012 to monitor the long-term safety of glucocorticoids in patients with adrenal insufficiency, and of 946 enrolled — in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom — 91.8% were using hydrocortisone for glucocorticoid replacement therapy compared to just 6.8% using prednisone, with marked heterogeneity in doses and frequency and timing of dosing (Endocrine Abstracts. 2015: DOI:10.1530/endoabs.37.EP39).
Other previous studies have found lower bone mass at the hip and spine with prednisolone compared with hydrocortisone-treated patients, but no quality-of-life difference between the two treatments, Dr Murray said.
The current study is the first patient-matched analysis of cardiovascular-risk-factor differences for the two glucocorticoid therapies. Patients were excluded if they were receiving more than one glucocorticoid, had congenital adrenal hyperplasia, were receiving modified-release hydrocortisone, or were receiving prednisolone or hydrocortisone doses outside the Endocrine Society's recommended ranges.
Prior to matching, the 909 hydrocortisone patients were significantly more likely to be female, to have primary adrenal insufficiency, to be older, and to have longer disease duration. After matching three hydrocortisone patients for every one taking prednisolone, the 141 hydrocortisone and 47 prednisolone patients were similar for those factors: 62% were female, 40% had primary adrenal insufficiency, average age was around 59 years, and disease duration 23 years.
Both total cholesterol and LDL levels were significantly higher, at 6.3 and 3.9 mmol/L, respectively, in the prednisolone group compared with 5.4 and 3.2 mmol/L for hydrocortisone (both P < .05). However, there were no significant differences in rates of hypertension, diabetes (of either type), blood pressure, triglycerides, or HDL cholesterol.
In subgroup analysis, both total and LDL cholesterol were elevated among patients with primary adrenal insufficiency taking prednisolone, but among those with only secondary adrenal insufficiency, just total cholesterol was elevated with prednisolone.
Dr Stratakis told Medscape Medical News, "It is peculiar for me to see that the only difference he found from all the parameters he measured were in lipids, and specifically total cholesterol and LDL. I think the difference is tissue-specific."
Dr Murray said it's certainly plausible that the current prednisolone dosing is too high for two reasons: First, in the United Kingdom prednisolone comes in 1-mg and 5-mg tablets, so taking 5 mg/day is simpler than taking the lower end of the recommended range.
Second, "hydrocortisone is cortisol, so you know what the body produces and about what your levels should be, but you can't do that with prednisone because it's an analog. So, we're guessing, and I think we've guessed too high."
Dr Murray is a speaker and consultant to Shire. Disclosures for the coauthors are listed in the abstract. Dr Stratakis has no relevant financial relationships.
ENDO 2017. April 2, 2017; Orlando, Florida. Abstract OR03-5
Medscape Medical News © 2017
Cite this: Prednisolone May Raise Cholesterol in Adrenal Insufficiency - Medscape - Apr 03, 2017.