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Eur Spine J. 2003 Oct;12 Suppl 2:S132-41. Epub 2003 Sep 17.

Medical treatment of vertebral osteoporosis.

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Osteoporosis Policlinic, University Hospital of Berne, 3010, Berne, Switzerland.


Although osteoporosis is a systemic disease, vertebral fractures due to spinal bone loss are a frequent, sometimes early and often neglected complication of the disease, generally associated with considerable disability and pain. As osteoporotic vertebral fractures are an important predictor of future fracture risk, including at the hip, medical management is targeted at reducing fracture risk. A literature search for randomized, double-blind, prospective, controlled clinical studies addressing medical treatment possibilities of vertebral fractures in postmenopausal Caucasian women was performed on the leading medical databases. For each publication, the number of patients with at least one new vertebral fracture and the number of randomized patients by treatment arm was retrieved. The relative risk (RR) and the number needed to treat (NNT, i.e. the number of patients to be treated to avoid one radiological vertebral fracture over the duration of the study), together with the respective 95% confidence intervals (95%CI) were calculated for each study. Treatment of steroid-induced osteoporosis and treatment of osteoporosis in men were reviewed separately, based on the low number of publications available. Forty-five publications matched with the search criteria, allowing for analysis of 15 different substances tested regarding their anti-fracture efficacy at the vertebral level. Bisphosphonates, mainly alendronate and risedronate, were reported to have consistently reduced the risk of a vertebral fracture over up to 50 months of treatment in four (alendronate) and two (risedronate) publications. Raloxifene reduced vertebral fracture risk in one study over 36 months, which was confirmed by 48 months' follow-up data. Parathormone (PTH) showed a drastic reduction in vertebral fracture risk in early studies, while calcitonin may also be a treatment option to reduce fracture risk. For other substances published data are conflicting (calcitriol, fluoride) or insufficient to conclude about efficacy (calcium, clodronate, etidronate, hormone replacement therapy, pamidronate, strontium, tiludronate, vitamin D). The low NNTs for the leading substances (ranges: 15-64 for alendronate, 8-26 for risedronate, 23 for calcitonin and 28-31 for raloxifene) confirm that effective and efficient drug interventions for treatment and prevention of osteoporotic vertebral fractures are available. Bisphosphonates have demonstrated similar efficacy in treatment and prevention of steroid-induced and male osteoporosis as in postmenopausal osteoporosis. The selection of the appropriate drug for treatment of vertebral osteoporosis from among a bisphosphonate (alendronate or risedronate), PTH, calcitonin or raloxifene will mainly depend on the efficacy, tolerability and safety profile, together with the patient's willingness to comply with a long-term treatment. Although reduction of vertebral fracture risk is an important criterion for decision making, drugs with proven additional fracture risk reduction at all clinically relevant sites (especially at the hip) should be the preferred options.

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