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Logo of annrheumdAnnals of the Rheumatic DiseasesVisit this articleSubmit a manuscriptReceive email alertsContact usBMJ
Ann Rheum Dis. 2002 January; 61(1): 32–36.
PMCID: PMC1753894

Prevalence of long term steroid treatment and the frequency of decision making to prevent steroid induced osteoporosis in daily clinical practice


Background: The use of oral corticosteroids (CS) is one of the most common causes of iatrogenic osteoporosis. Recently, therapeutic guidelines dealing with the skeletal complication of CS have been published.

Objective: To evaluate how CS are used in the community and the frequency of active intervention against corticosteroid induced osteoporosis in daily clinical practice.

Material and methods: After approval by the Committee on Medical Ethics and the Data Protection Commission all prescriptions for CS which were filled by pharmacies in the northeast area of Iceland (population 26 664) during a two year period were collected. Thereafter, clinical information was obtained from medical records at the healthcare centres and from the local hospital. Patients who were taking CS for at least three months a year or for repeated periods (for a total of three months annually) were included in the study. These patients also received a questionnaire about hormone replacement therapy, bisphosphonates, and dietary consumption of calcium and vitamin D.

Results: A total of 191 patients were included in the study or 0.7% of the population. Their mean age was 66 years (17–93) and 106/191 (55%) were women. Only 63 (33%) patients had no registered complication due to the treatment, according their medical records. Thirty nine (20%) patients had had an osteoporosis related fracture and 50 (26%) of the patients had presumed CS induced osteoporosis. A total of 52% patients were receiving supplementary vitamin D (fish liver oil) and 37% were taking calcium tablets regularly, while 91% of the patient group were consuming milk products regularly. Only 17 (9%) patients were taking bisphosphonates and 18/81 (22%) of the postmenopausal women were receiving hormone replacement therapy.

Conclusions: Relatively few patients receiving long term treatment with CS are also receiving primary prevention against CS induced osteoporosis, although several patients are taking vitamin D and calcium tablets. Specific treatment against osteoporosis was in most cases instituted secondary to osteoporotic complications. Thus although there are available treatment alternatives against CS induced osteoporosis, the doctors who prescribed CS did not make use of this form of treatment for their patients.

Figure 1
Age and sex distribution of 191 patients taking continuous oral corticosteroids for at least three months.
Figure 2
Duration in years of continuous oral corticosteroid treatment in 163 patients. The length of time was calculated from the start of the treatment to the end of the treatment or to the date of the study.

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