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UI study points to new treatment for steroid-induced osteoporosis

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A University of Iowa rheumatologist reports that the drug alendronate (marketed as Fosamax) may help prevent steroid-induced osteoporosis, the second most common cause of osteoporosis in post-menopausal women.

Dr. Kenneth Saag, UI assistant professor of internal medicine, presented his findings last Sunday at the American College of Rheumatology National Scientific Meeting in Washington, D.C. UI researchers and investigators at Le Centre Hospitalier, Universitaire de Quebec in Canada, studied 560 steroid therapy patients over 48 weeks who were undergoing steroid therapy. The patients received either an oral dose of alendronate or an inactive placebo. All the patients also were given calcium and vitamin D supplements.

"Steroids are often prescribed by doctors for a number of medical conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and inflammatory bowel disease," Saag says. "While steroids are effective in treating these diseases, osteoporosis is often a serious side effect."

Saag and his colleagues found that alendronate significantly increased bone mass at the spine and hip in men and women taking steroids compared to placebo. The UI and Canadian studies also showed fewer patients on alendronate had spine fractures compared to those patients of placebo. In addition, alendronate reduced spine fractures by more than 65 percent in post-menopausal women on corticosteroid therapy.

Researchers already knew that alendronate could help treat general osteoporosis, Saag notes, but the new findings show that the drug can also play a role in preventing and treating osteoporosis caused by steroids.

"As many as 30 million Americans are affected by diseases that may require corticosteroid use," he says. "Calcium and vitamin D supplements, hormone replacement therapy and exercise are the recommended modes of therapy, but our study shows that this particular medication may have a significant impact, as well."