How to prevent glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis

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In a phase 2 study of denosumab 33 in men and women with rheumatoid arthritis (an independent risk factor for bone loss), the bone mineral density of the lumbar spine increased irrespective of whether the patients were treated with bisphosphonates and glucocorticoids.


Unfortunately, prevention and treatment in actual clinical practice still lag behind what is recommended in the current guidelines, even though multiple therapies are available.

In 2005, Blalock et al 34 expressed concerns about patients’ knowledge, beliefs, and behavior and the prevention and treatment of glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis. They found that most patients taking oral glucocorticoids are not adequately educated about the prevention of osteoporosis, stating that “patients either are not being counseled or they are being counseled in a manner that is not sufficient to promote subsequent recall and behavior change.” 34 They concluded that research is needed to develop effective ways to educate patients about how to prevent glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis.

Also in 2005, Curtis et al 35 reviewed the records of managed-care patients taking glucocorticoids, comparing the prescription of antiresorptive therapy and the use of over-the-counter calcium or vitamin D or both in the periods 2001 to 2003 vs 1995 to 1998. The frequency of bone mineral density measurement in 2001 to 2003 had increased threefold compared with 1995 to 1998, and the use of a prescription antiresorptive drug had increased approximately twofold. However, only 42% of the patients underwent bone mineral density testing or were prescribed bone-protective medicine. The rates were lowest for men, at 25%.


Evidenced-based guidelines exist to guide the clinician in an attempt to prevent the deleterious effects of glucocorticoids on bone. Physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and pharmacists need to coordinate their effects to ensure that adherence to these guidelines improves. Only then will the bone health of patients treated with glucocorticoids improve.

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