SAN FRANCISCO – in a Dutch prospective longitudinal study, Irene E.M. Bultink, MD, PhD, reported at an international congress on systemic lupus erythematosus.
“I think we should focus on fall risk and fall events in lupus. I think that’s a neglected area,” according to, a rheumatologist at the University of Amsterdam.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom, in her study, cumulative corticosteroid dose, average daily dosage, and bone loss were not significantly related to fracture risk in these SLE patients. That’s because Dr. Bultink and her fellow rheumatologists took steps to mitigate steroid-induced bone loss.
“We know steroids are very important for bone loss in lupus, but we demonstrated in our long-term follow-up study that it’s very dose dependent. If you use steroids below 7.5 mg daily and you protect your patient with calcium and vitamin D and, if possible, with bisphosphonates, the bone loss is restricted. I think fracture risk in lupus is more related to fall risk and fall incidence than to bone loss and steroid use. That’s what we demonstrated in our study,” she said in an interview.
“Unfortunately, until now, no studies on fall risk and fall events in lupus have been published. It’s not investigated very well. I think that fall risk in lupus patients might be greatly increased, compared to healthy controls,” Dr. Bultink added.
The study included 145 Dutch SLE patients with a mean age of 41 years at baseline. Ninety percent were women; 69% were white. Bone mineral density measurements by dual x-ray bone densitometry and x-rays of the lumbar and thoracic spine were obtained at entry and again after a median of 5 years.
Forty-two incident fractures occurred during a median of 7.2 years of follow-up. This equated to an incidence rate of 2.2 peripheral and 2.0 vertebral fractures per 100 person-years, rates double those in the Dutch general population.
In a logistic regression analysis, white ethnicity was independently associated with a 13.2-fold increased risk of fractures overall. Postmenopausal status conferred a fourfold increased risk. Older age was another important determinant. And patients with a prior stroke were at 15.5-fold greater risk of peripheral fractures.
“The prior stroke subgroup is especially vulnerable. In an earlier population-based study using data from the U.K. we also demonstrated that fractures happened more frequently in SLE patients who had already suffered a stroke (). So those are patients who are at very high risk for falling and fractures. But I think there are many reasons why patients with SLE would have an elevated fall risk. They have fatigue. They have muscle weakness, which might be due to vitamin D deficiency or prednisone use or inactivity. And they often have balance problems due to neuropathy or medication,” the rheumatologist observed.
She reported having no financial conflicts regarding her study, carried out free of commercial support.