Systematic review of the toxicity of short-course oral corticosteroids in children

Aljebab, F. et al. Arch Dis Child 2016;101:365-370

Background: Short-course oral corticosteroids are commonly used in children but are known to be associated with adverse drug reactions (ADRs). This review aimed to identify the most common and serious ADRs and to determine their relative risk levels.

Methods: A literature search of EMBASE, MEDLINE, International Pharmaceutical Abstracts, CINAHL, Cochrane Library and PubMed was performed with no language restrictions to identify studies in which oral corticosteroids were administered to patients aged 28 days to 18 years of age for up to and including 14 days of treatment. Each database was searched from their earliest dates to December 2013. All studies providing clear information on ADRs were included.

Results: Thirty-eight studies including 22 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) met the inclusion criteria. The studies involved a total of 3200 children in whom 850 ADRs were reported. The three most frequent ADRs were vomiting, behavioural changes and sleep disturbance, with respective incidence rates of 5.4%, 4.7% and 4.3% of patients assessed for these ADRs. Infection was one of the most serious ADRs; one child died after contracting varicella zoster. When measured, 144 of 369 patients showed increased blood pressure; 21 of 75 patients showed weight gain; and biochemical hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis suppression was detected in 43 of 53 patients.

Conclusions: Vomiting, behavioural changes and sleep disturbance were the most frequent ADRs seen when short-course oral corticosteroids were given to children. Increased susceptibility to infection was the most serious ADR.

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