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Clin Rheumatol. 2008 May;27(5):565-72. Epub 2007 Oct 2.

Does low-dose and short-term glucocorticoids treatment increase the risk of osteoporosis in rheumatoid arthritis female patients?

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Department of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, University of Medical Sciences in Poznań, Przybyszewskiego 39., 60-356 Poznań, Poland.


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is frequently complicated by peri-articular and generalized osteoporosis due to increased bone resorption by activated osteoclasts. Pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as TNF-alpha, interleukin 1 (IL1), and interleukin 6 (IL6) are thought, among other factors, to be directly responsible for this extra-articular complication of RA. Glucocorticoids (GCS) commonly prescribed in RA due to their strong anti-inflammatory effect are also well known for causing secondary osteoporosis during a prolonged use. An influence of low-dose GCS therapy (8.7 mg per day) on a bone turnover in female RA patients with or without previous history of GCS treatment was investigated by measuring bone mineral content (BMC), bone mineral density (BMD), and various biochemical markers of inflammation and bone metabolism in comparison to results obtained from: (1) RA patients who have not been treated with GCS and (2) the control group of healthy individuals. Sixty-two female patients with established active RA and 178 healthy individuals from the control group have been investigated. The RA patients were divided into three groups: 21 treated with GCS before the trial--these patients have continued GCS therapy using low doses during the observation; 21 with low-dose GCS therapy launched at the beginning of the trial; and 20 left without GCS treatment. All patients have been assessed twice: at the beginning and after 12 months of observation. BMC and BMD have been measured in all patients in a distal part of forearm. Additionally, several different biochemical markers of osteoporosis and inflammation have been determined. We did not notice any increase in bone metabolism between RA patients receiving GCS therapy for the first time and those treated without GCS after 12 months of observation. Results of BMC, BMD osteocalcin level, total and bone alkaline phosphatase, carboxy-terminal collagen cross links, carboxy-terminal propeptides of type 1 collagen, deoxypyridynoline, and calcium/creatinine ratio were comparable in both groups at the end of the study. There was a significant decrease of the level of IL-6 in patients who had GCS therapy launched at the beginning of observation (p<0.01). However, levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) and alpha1-acid-glycoprotein (AGP) have not changed; the level of ESR dropped significantly (p<0.05) in this group. In contrast, in the group of patients with the previous history of prolonged GCS treatment receiving low doses of GCS during the trial, statistically significant increase of CRP and AGP could be observed (p<0.05) along with further significant worsening of the primary low BMD (p<0.05). Based on the obtained data, we came to the conclusion that anti-inflammatory effect of the low-dose GCS therapy in RA patients without previous history of their use may balance their direct negative effect on BMC and BMD. In this group of RA patients, benefits resulting from the 12-month GCS therapy prevail over adverse effects, even if calcium with vitamin D3 supplementation, biphosphonians, or estrogens have not been introduced. On the other hand, low-dose GCS therapy could have no benefit for RA patients with the previous history of their prolonged use, as a rise of markers of inflammation and bone turnover, resulting in the further bone loss, has been observed.

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