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Osteoporosis is a well-known extra-articular complication in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The chronic corticosteroid treatment, the functional impairment associated with RA and the disease itself appear to be the most relevant determinants. Most of the previous studies involved postmenopausal women, in whom the estrogenic deficiency might amplify the negative effect towards bone of both RA and corticosteroid therapy. We decided to evaluate bone health in a cohort of premenopausal RA patients. The study population includes 47 premenopausal women attending our outpatient clinic for RA and twice as many healthy age-matched control women selected from the hospital personnel. The bone density at the spine and femoral neck were significantly lower in patients with RA as compared with controls. When spine bone mineral density (BMD) values were adjusted for the cumulative glucocorticoid (GC) dose alone and for the cumulative GC dose plus body mass index (BMI) the mean differences between two groups decreased but they remained statistically significant. We found no difference when the spine BMD was adjusted for cumulative GC dose, BMI and health assessment questionnaire. The difference in femoral neck BMD remained statistically significant also after all the same adjustments. In conclusion, our study shows that a BMD deficiency is frequent also in premenopausal women affected by RA, especially at femoral site and that the main determinants of this bone loss are not only the disease-related weight loss, corticosteroid therapy and functional impairment, but also the systemic effects of the disease itself.
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