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Pediatrics. 2003 Feb;111(2):376-83.

Safety profile of frequent short courses of oral glucocorticoids in acute pediatric asthma: impact on bone metabolism, bone density, and adrenal function.

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Department of Pediatrics and Epidemiology, Montreal Children's Hospital, McGill University Health Centre, Montreal, Qu├ębec, Canada.



Our study was designed to establish in children with asthma the safety profile of repeated short courses of oral glucocorticoids on bone mineralization and metabolism and adrenal function.


This cross-sectional study compared the bone density, bone metabolism, and adrenal function of children who were and were not exposed to bursts of oral glucocorticoids. Children were considered exposed when, in the preceding year, they received >or=2 courses of oral glucocorticoids and were prescribed the same therapy for the index exacerbation. Children were considered unexposed when they had no exposure to oral glucocorticoids and were not prescribed any for the index exacerbation. Indices of bone metabolism were measured during the subsequent month. Cortisol responses to adrenocorticotrophic hormone stimulation and bone density were assessed 30 days after the index exacerbation.


Eighty-three children (48 exposed, 35 unexposed) aged 2 to 17 years were enrolled. The median exposure level was 4 courses (range: 3-11) in the preceding year. Among exposed children, a transient decrease in serum osteocalcin was observed at the end of the 5-day course with a return to baseline by 30 days; no change was observed in urine pyridinoline cross-links. Mean bone density z score was similar in the exposed (-0.61 +/- 1.0 [standard deviation]) and unexposed (-0.67 +/- 0.9) groups. No cases of abnormal response to adrenocorticotrophic hormone suggestive of adrenal insufficiency were documented in the exposed (95% confidence interval: 0%-7%) or unexposed (0%-10%) groups.


Repeated short courses of oral glucocorticoids in the treatment of asthma seem to be reasonably safe; this practice was not associated with any lasting perturbation in bone metabolism, bone mineralization, or adrenal function.

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