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Original article
One-year effects of glucocorticoids on bone density: a meta-analysis in cohorts on high and low-dose therapy
  1. Willem F Lems1,
  2. Merel M E Baak1,
  3. Lilian H D van Tuyl1,
  4. Mariëtte C Lodder2,
  5. Ben A C Dijkmans1 and
  6. Maarten Boers1,3
  1. 1Amsterdam Rheumatology and immunology Center, VUmc, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  2. 2Department of Rheumatology, Spaarne Gasthuis, Haarlem, The Netherlands
  3. 3Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Professor Maarten Boers; eb{at}


Background Bone loss during glucocorticoid (GC) therapy is poorly quantified.

Objective Quantification of bone loss in GC-treated patients with chronic inflammatory diseases (CID; low dose) and transplants (high dose).

Methods Meta-analysis of cohorts: PubMed, Cochrane, EMBASE and bibliographic searches (1995–2012). Eligible studies prospectively included GC-treated patients with two dual X-ray absorptiometry measurements of spine or hip over a period of at least 12 months. Only supplementation with calcium or vitamin D3 was allowed. 5602 titles yielded 285 articles: 51 study arms in CID (N=1565), 18 study arms in transplantation (N=571). Prednisone-equivalent GC doses and inverse variance weighted mean bone changes were used in a random effects model.

Results In CID, the mean GC dose was 8.7 mg/day (range 1.2–16.4). The mean 1-year bone loss in the lumbar spine was −1.7% (95% CI –2.2% to –1.2%); in the femoral neck: –1.3 (–1.8 to –0.7). In transplantation, the mean GC dose was 18.9 mg/day (range 6.0–52.7). Bone loss in the lumbar spine was −3.6% (–5.2% to –2.0%); in the femoral neck: –3.1% (–5.1% to –1.1%). Within the two groups, bone loss was not related to GC dose.

Conclusion In CID, GC-related bone loss appears limited and manageable if current anti-osteoporotic strategies are fully implemented. In transplantation, and probably also other high-dose settings, bone loss is considerable and represents unmet need. The heterogeneity probably reflects the important influence of other factors, most notably the underlying disease and the efficacy of GC treatment.

  • Bone Mineral Density
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Corticosteroids

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