Benefits and harms of celecoxib for treating people with rheumatoid arthritis


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We included eight RCTs with durations of 4 to 24 weeks, published between 1998 and 2014 that involved a total of 3988 adults (mean age = 54 years), most of whom were women (73%). Participants had rheumatoid arthritis for an average of 9.2 years. All studies were assessed at high or unclear risk of bias in at least one domain. Overall, evidence was assessed as moderate-to-low quality. Five studies were funded by pharmaceutical companies.

Celecoxib versus placebo

We included two studies (N = 873) in which participants received 200 mg daily or 400 mg daily or placebo. Participants who received celecoxib showed significant clinical improvement compared with those receiving placebo (15% absolute improvement; 95% CI 7% to 25%; RR 1.53, 95% CI 1.25 to 1.86; number needed to treat to benefit (NNTB) = 7, 95% CI 5 to 13; 2 studies, 873 participants; moderate to low quality evidence).

Participants who received celecoxib reported less pain than placebo-treated people (11% absolute improvement; 95% CI 8% to 14%; NNTB = 4, 95% CI 3 to 6; 1 study, 706 participants) but results were inconclusive for improvement in physical function (MD -0.10, 95% CI 0.29 to 0.10; 1 study, 706 participants).

In the celecoxib group, 15/293 participants developed ulcers, compared with 4/99 in the placebo group (Peto OR 1.26, 95% CI 0.44 to 3.63; 1 study, 392 participants; low quality evidence). Nine (of 475) participants in the celecoxib group developed short-term serious adverse events, compared with five (of 231) in the placebo group (Peto OR 0.87 (0.28 to 2.69; 1 study, 706 participants; low quality evidence).

There were fewer withdrawals among people who received celecoxib (163/475) compared with placebo (130/231) (22% absolute change; 95% CI 16% to 27%; RR 0.61, 95% CI 0.52 to 0.72; 1 study, 706 participants).

Cardiovascular events (myocardial infarction, stroke) were not reported. However, regulatory agencies warn of increased cardiovascular event risk associated with celecoxib.

Celecoxib versus tNSAIDs

Seven studies (N = 2930) compared celecoxib and tNSAIDs (amtolmetin guacyl, diclofenac, ibuprofen, meloxicam, nabumetone, naproxen, pelubiprofen); one study included comparisons of both placebo and tNSAIDs (N = 1149).

There was a small improvement, which may not be clinically significant, in numbers of participants achieving ACR20 criteria response in the celecoxib group compared to tNSAIDs (4% absolute improvement; 95% CI 0% less improvement to 8% more improvement; RR 1.10, 95% CI 0.99 to 1.23; 4 studies, 1981 participants). There was a lack of evidence of difference between participants in the celecoxib and tNSAID groups in terms of pain or physical function. Results were assessed at moderate-to-low quality evidence (downgraded due to risk of bias and inconsistency).

People who received celecoxib had a lower incidence of gastroduodenal ulcers ≥ 3 mm (34/870) compared with those who received tNSAIDs (116/698). This corresponded to 12% absolute change (95% CI 11% to 13%; RR 0.22, 95% CI 0.15 to 0.32; 5 studies, 1568 participants; moderate quality evidence). There were 7% fewer withdrawals among people who received celecoxib (95% CI 4% to 9%; RR 0.73, 95% CI 0.62 to 0.86; 6 studies, 2639 participants).

Results were inconclusive for short-term serious adverse events and cardiovascular events (low quality evidence). There were 17/918 serious adverse events in people taking celecoxib compared to 42/1236 among people who received placebo (Peto OR 0.71; 95% CI 0.39 to 1.28; 5 studies, 2154 participants). Cardiovascular events were reported in both celecoxib and placebo groups in one study (149 participants).