Lumbar Epidural Steroid Jab Lowers Bone Formation in Older Women


Among postmenopausal women who received an epidural steroid injection (ESI) in the lumbar spine to treat back and leg pain arising from a compressed nerve in the spine, levels of bone formation biomarkers were decreased. The decrease in levels persisted more than 12 weeks, results from a new study show.

In addition, serum cortisol levels decreased by 50% at week 1 after the ESI, indicating systemic absorption of the steroid.

“The extent and duration of these effects suggest that patients who receive multiple [ESIs in the lumbar spine] may be at particular risk for harmful skeletal consequences,” Shannon Clare reported in an oral presentation at the American Society of Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR 2021) Annual Meeting.

Further studies are needed of the relationship between these short-term changes in bone turnover and bone loss and the risk for fracture among the burgeoning population treated with ESIs, added Clare, of the Hospital for Special Surgery, New York City.

The researchers examined changes in serum levels of bone formation and resorption markers and other analytes in 24 women who received a lumbar ESI for radicular back pain and in eight other women from the hospital population who served as control persons.

Among the women who received ESI, 1 week after the injection, serum levels of two bone formation biomarkers — total procollagen type 1 N-terminal propeptide (P1NP) and osteocalcin — were about 27% lower than at baseline. The suppression persisted beyond 12 weeks.

Serum levels of the bone resorption biomarker C-terminal telopeptide of type I collagen (CTX) did not differ significantly after ESI.

“Our results are notable because we found that the duration of suppression of bone formation extended beyond 12 weeks, a far longer duration than seen previously with intra-articular injections” of glucocorticoids, said Clare and senior author Emily M. Stein, MD, director of research for the Metabolic Bone Service and an endocrinologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery and is associate professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York City.

The findings suggest that patients should not receive multiple doses within a 12-week period, they told Medscape Medical News in a joint email response.

Women are not typically screened for osteopenia or osteoporosis before ESI, they continued. However, “our results suggest that physicians should consider screening women for osteoporosis who receive ESI, particularly those who are treated with multiple doses,” said Clare and Stein. “Steroid exposure should be minimized as much as possible by having patients space injections as far as they can tolerate.”

Systemic Absorption, Negative Impact on Bone Turnover Markers

“The hypothesis that [ESIs] interfere with the vertebral osseous microenvironment and increase the risk of vertebral fractures has been supported with evidence in the literature,” Mohamad Bydon, MD, professor of neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, and health services research at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, told Medscape Medical News in an email.

Prior studies have demonstrated a decrease in bone mineral density (BMD) and an increase in vertebral fractures following ESI, added Bydon, senior author of a 2018 review of the effect of ESI on BMD and vertebral fracture risk that was published in Pain Medicine. He was not involved with the current study.

“The article by Clare et al. provides evidence on the systemic absorption of glucocorticoids by demonstrating a drop in serum cortisol following ESI,” he noted. “The measurement of bone metabolism biomarkers offers molecular confirmation of clinical and radiological observations of previous studies” showing that ESI affects the vertebrae.

More Than Nine Million ESIs Each Year

Each year, more than nine million ESIs are administered to patients in the United States to relieve radicular back and leg pain that may be caused by a herniated disc or spinal stenosis (a gradual narrowing of the open spaces in the spinal column, which is common in older adults), the researchers explained.

Some patients experience sufficient pain relief with ESIs. Others may not be eligible for surgery and may receive multiple ESIs annually for many years because they provide pain relief.

It is well established that oral and intravenous glucocorticoids profoundly suppress bone formation and transiently increase bone resorption, causing substantial bone loss and increased fracture risk within 3 months of administration, Clare explained in the session.

Long-term use of high-dose inhaled glucocorticoids has been associated with bone loss and fractures. However, the effect of ESIs on bone has been less well studied.

The researchers hypothesized that ESIs are systemically absorbed and cause suppression of bone formation without a compensatory decrease in bone resorption.

They enrolled 24 patients who had undergone lumbar ESIs and eight control patients. The mean age of the patients in the two groups was 63 years and 68 years, respectively. Most patients were White (88% and 100%, respectively). The mean body mass index was 27 kg/m2 and 28 kg/m2, respectively. On average, the patients had entered menopause 12 and 16 years earlier, respectively.

In the group that received steroid injections, almost two thirds (15 patients, 63%) received triamcinolone. The rest received dexamethasone (six patients, 25%) or betamethasone (three patients, 12%) at doses that were equivalent to 80 mg triamcinolone.

The patients’ baseline serum levels of 25-hydroxy vitamin D, parathyroid hormone, cortisol, P1NP, osteocalcin, and CTX were within the reference ranges and were similar in the two groups.

The researchers also determined serum levels of cortisol (to assess suppression of endogenous glucocorticoids), osteocalcin, P1NP, and CTX in the patients and control persons at 1, 4, 12, 26, and 52 weeks after patients had received the ESI.

The researchers acknowledge that the small sample is a study limitation. In addition, the first serum samples were taken 1 week after the injection, and so any earlier changes in analyte levels were not captured. The patients also received different types of steroids, although the doses were similar when converted to triamcinolone equivalents.

The study was supported by a Spine Service grant from the Hospital for Special Surgery. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

American Society of Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR) 2021 Annual Meeting: Abstract 1069. Presented October 3, 2021.

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