Evidence-based guidelines for the prevention and treatment of glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis: a consensus document of the Belgian Bone Club
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Glucocorticoids (GCs) are frequently prescribed for various inflammatory and/or life-threatening conditions concerning many systems in the body. However, they can provoke many aftereffects, of which osteoporosis (OP) is one of the most crippling complications, with its host of fractures. The dramatic increase in bone fragility is mainly attributable to the GC-induced rapid bone loss in all skeletal compartments. We have reviewed the meta-analyses and randomized controlled studies reporting medical therapeutic interventions currently registered in Belgium for the management of GC-OP comparatively with a placebo. Based on this research, an expert meeting developed a consensus on the prevention and therapy of GC-OP. The pathophysiology of GC-OP is complex. Several factors, acting separately or synergistically, have been described. Their great number could help to understand the rapidity of bone loss and of bone fragility occurrence, indicating that a rapid therapeutic intervention should be implemented to avoid complications. All patients on GCs are threatened with OP, so the prevention and/or therapy of GC-OP should be considered not only for postmenopausal females, but also for osteopenic premenopausal females and for males put on a daily dose of at least 7.5 mg equivalent prednisolone that is expected to last at least 3 months. Non-pharmacological interventions, such as exercise and avoidance of tobacco and alcohol, should be recommended, even if their role is not definitely settled in GC-OP prevention. Supplemental calcium and vitamin D should be considered as the first-line therapy because of the decrease in intestinal calcium absorption provoked by GCs. They also could be considered either as isolated therapy in patients taking less than 7.5 mg prednisolone daily and/or for a predicted period shorter than 3 months or as adjuvant therapy to other more potent drugs. Hormone replacement therapy could be considered in young postmenopausal females on GC, such as in postmenopausal OP, or in men with low androgen levels. Calcitonin appears to have a protective effect on trabecular bone in GC-OP, just as in postmenopausal OP. There is an increasing body of evidence supporting the antifracture efficacy of bisphosphonates, notably alendronate and risedronate. Preventative and curative therapy of GC-OP should be maintained as long as the patient is on GC treatment and could be stopped after weaning from GC, because there is more than circumstantial evidence of some recovery of BMD when GCs are stopped. There is no indication in GC-OP for any combination of two antiresorptive agents (except for calcium and vitamin D) or for an antiresorptive and an anabolic agent. There is indeed no proof that the increased costs of combined treatments will translate into increased therapeutic efficacy.