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A survey of steroid-related osteoporosis diagnosis, prevention and treatment practices of pediatric rheumatologists in North America

Arzu Soybilgic*, Melissa Tesher, Linda Wagner-Weiner and Karen B Onel

Author Affiliations

University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA

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Pediatric Rheumatology 2014, 12:24  doi:10.1186/1546-0096-12-24

Published: 9 July 2014



The purpose of our study is to assess practices of North American pediatric rheumatologists regarding monitoring, prevention, and treatment of low bone mineral density (BMD) in children on long-term glucocorticoid treatment.

Long-term glucocorticoid therapy is associated with accelerated bone loss. Children with JIA and lupus have low baseline BMD and incident vertebral fractures commonly occur in these groups of patients even after a relatively short period of time being on systemic glucocorticoids. There are no established guidelines for identification, prevention, and treatment of glucocorticoid-induced bone loss in children.


A cross-sectional online survey was conducted with 199 physicians who were listed in the ACR database as practicing pediatric rheumatology in North America.


86 physicians (43%) responded; 87% were board-certified in pediatric rheumatology. 95% used dual energy X-ray absorptiometry as their primary modality for assessing BMD. 79% “rarely” or “never” obtained a baseline BMD measurement prior to initiation of glucocorticoid therapy. 42% of respondents followed BMD annually. 93% “frequently” or “always” prescribed calcium for patients on long-term corticosteroid therapy; 81% “frequently” or “always” prescribed vitamin D. In patients diagnosed with osteoporosis, 35%-50 % of the practitioners “sometimes”, “frequently” or “always” prescribed bisphosphonates. Bisphosphonates are prescribed at similar rates for male and female patients, and slightly more frequently for pubertal than for pre-pubertal patients. 96% of respondents “rarely” or “never” prescribed calcitonin for patients on long-term glucocorticoid therapy; 92% “rarely” or “never” prescribe this medication for patients with known osteopenia or osteoporosis.


Utilization of DXA in children on long-term corticosteroid therapy varies greatly among North American pediatric rheumatologists. Most respondents do not screen for low BMD on a regular basis despite acknowledging the risks of bone loss in this population. Broad consensus appears to be present among practitioners favoring the prescription of calcium and vitamin D for patients receiving long-term corticosteroid therapy. Relatively few respondents consistently recommend bisphosphonate therapy, even for patients with known low bone density; calcitonin is rarely used. These data underscore the need for studies to acquire specific data on bone loss, and its prevention and treatment in young patients on long-term glucocorticoid therapy.

Pediatric; Rheumatology; Systemic; Juvenile; Idiopathic; Arthritis; Osteoporosis; Corticosteroids; North America