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13 Can we withdraw low-dose prednisone in remitted patients?
  1. Zahir Amoura
  1. Pitié-Salpêtrière University Hospital, Paris, France


Maintenance of remission has become central in the management of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). However, an active disease-free state is generally maintained only when patients are on medication, which often leads to treatment-related complications. Therefore, once remission has been achieved, prolonged maintenance treatment inevitably requires a regimen of drug de-escalation. The recent EULAR recommendations for the treatment of SLE during chronic maintenance treatment advocate that glucocorticoids (GC) should be, when possible, withdrawn.1 However, in routine practice a significant proportion of treating physicians prefers to continue a low dose GC regimen, despite clinical remission, which is most likely due to the fear that withdrawal of low-dose GCs may lead to a severe flare, even after very long intervals of remission.2 In a recent prospective randomised controlled trial, we showed that, in SLE patients in remission and with stable treatment regimen for at least 1 year, withdrawal of 5 mg of prednisone was associated with a fourfold increase (i.e. 27%), in the risk of flare, as defined by the SFI or the BILAG index.3 Other SLE treatments remained unmodified during this study. In particular, at study entry 91% and 27% of the patients were also treated with hydroxychloroquine and an immunosuppressant, respectively. The 27% relapse rate observed in the withdrawal group in our study is in line with the ones recently reported in two recent cohorts.4 5 Tani et al described the longitudinal study of a cohort of 91 SLE Italian patients who attempted stopping GC treatment.4 A total of 77 patients successfully stopped GC. For those patients who were successfully withdrawn from GC, 18 flares (23%) were recorded after a median follow-up period of about 2 years. As in our study, 72% of flares were mild. The time period since the last flare was the sole determinant predictor of disease flare identified. A recent observational study, performed by Goswami et al in India, reported that 21% of patients in remission undergo exacerbation of the disease after GC withdrawal with most of the flares occurring in the first year of follow-up.5 Therefore, until the availability of effective drugs with little or no toxicity, it is recommended to not abandon the option of using very low doses of GCs (i.e. ≤5 mg prednisone) given their potential benefits in SLE patients in remission, especially those at low cardiovascular risk.

Learning Objectives

  • Define remission in SLE patients

  • Discuss drug de-escalation in SLE patients in remission


  1. Fanouriakis A, Kostopoulou M, Alunno A, et al. 2019 update of the EULAR recommendations for the management of systemic lupus erythematosus. Ann Rheum Dis2019;78(6):736–45.

  2. Ngamjanyaporn P, McCarthy EM, Sergeant JC, et al. Clinicians approaches to management of background treatment in patients with SLE in clinical remission: results of an international observational survey. Lupus Sci Med 2017;4(1):e000173.

  3. Mathian A, Pha M, Haroche J, et al. Withdrawal of low-dose prednisone in SLE patients with a clinically quiescent disease for more than 1 year: a randomised clinical trial. Ann Rheum Dis 2020;79(3):339–46.

  4. Tani C, Elefante E, Signorini V, et al. Glucocorticoid withdrawal in systemic lupus erythematosus: are remission and low disease activity reliable starting points for stopping treatment? A real-life experience. RMD open 2019;5(2):e000916.

  5. Goswami RP, Sit H, Ghosh P, et al. Steroid-free remission in lupus: myth or reality; an observational study from a tertiary referral centre. Clin Rheumatol 2019;38(4):1089–97.

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