Study examines relationship between bone density and erosion in arthritis

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the most common form of inflammatory arthritis, affects almost three percent of people over age 65. RA patients experience pain, functional limitations and two forms of disabling bone disease: focal erosions and osteoporosis. After five years of disease, up to 50 percent of RA patients show evidence of focal erosions and RA doubles the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. A new study examined the relationship between these two RA-related processes, in the hopes of providing insight into the underlying pathophysiology of RA-related bone disease. The study was published in the June issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism (http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/76509746/home).

Led by Daniel H. Solomon of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston , the study involved 163 postmenopausal women with RA, none of whom were taking osteoporosis medications. Participants underwent bone density scans of the hip and spine, as well as X-rays of the hand to determine if they had bone erosions.

The results showed that hip bone mineral density (BMD) correlated with bone erosion, but the relationship was not statistically significant after adjusting for clinical factors such as age, BMI and use of oral glucocorticoids used to treat RA. The relationship did appear stronger, however, in patients with early RA. “Our findings suggest that the relationship between focal erosions and generalized osteoporosis is complicated and modified by many aspects of RA and other factors,” the authors state. They point out that with longer disease duration, other variables such as the use of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), disease activity and markers of inflammation may dilute the relationship between focal erosions and hip BMD.

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