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Open Access Research article

Hyposecretion of the adrenal androgen dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate and its relation to clinical variables in inflammatory arthritis

Patrick H Dessein1*, Barry I Joffe2, Anne E Stanwix1 and Zubair Moomal3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Rheumatology, Johannesburg Hospital, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

2 Carbohydrate and Lipid Metabolism Research Unit, Johannesburg Hospital, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

3 National Research Foundation, Pretoria, South Africa

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Arthritis Res 2001, 3:183-188  doi:10.1186/ar296

Published: 21 February 2001

Abstract

Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal underactivity has been reported in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This phenomenon has implications with regard to the pathogenesis and treatment of the disease. The present study was designed to evaluate the secretion of the adrenal androgen dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) and its relation to clinical variables in RA, spondyloarthropathy (Spa), and undifferentiated inflammatory arthritis (UIA). Eighty-seven patients (38 with RA, 29 with Spa, and 20 with UIA) were studied, of whom 54 were women. Only 12 patients (14%) had taken glucocorticoids previously. Age-matched, healthy women (134) and men (149) served as controls. Fasting blood samples were taken for determination of the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), serum DHEAS and insulin, and plasma glucose. Insulin resistance was estimated by the homeostasis-model assessment (HOMAIR). DHEAS concentrations were significantly decreased in both women and men with inflammatory arthritis (IA) (P < 0.001). In 24 patients (28%), DHEAS levels were below the lower extreme ranges found for controls. Multiple intergroup comparisons revealed similarly decreased concentrations in each disease subset in both women and men. After the ESR, previous glucocorticoid usage, current treatment with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, duration of disease and HOMAIR were controlled for, the differences in DHEAS levels between patients and controls were markedly attenuated in women (P = 0.050) and were no longer present in men (P = 0.133). We concluded that low DHEAS concentrations are commonly encountered in IA and, in women, this may not be fully explainable by disease-related parameters. The role of hypoadrenalism in the pathophysiology of IA deserves further elucidation. DHEA replacement may be indicated in many patients with IA, even in those not taking glucocorticoids.

Keywords:
Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate; inflammatory arthritis