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Asthma, Emphysema Drug May Weaken Bones

Bone Loss Seen After 1 Year of Inhaled Steroid
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Dec. 15, 2004 -- Long-term use of a drug commonly used to treat asthma and emphysema may lead to the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis.

Researchers found that after three years of using an inhaled steroid, emphysema patients had a significant loss in bone density.

The results may add fuel to an already controversial matter. Previous studies examining the link between inhaled steroids and bone density loss have offered conflicting results. Some studies have shown little to no bone loss after years of use. But others have shown that long-term use of inhaled steroids can weaken bones and possibly increase the chance of breaking a bone.

Inhaled steroids are the best treatment for people with moderate to severe asthma. They help calm the airway inflammation seen in asthma and decrease the risk of having an asthma attack. They are also frequently used to treat the lung disease emphysema, which usually occurs after many years of smoking.

Examples of inhaled steroids include:

  • Advair
  • Aerobid
  • Azmacort
  • Flovent
  • Pulmicort

In this new study, researchers looked at patients taking Azmacort. The findings appear in today's issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Lead researcher Paul Scanlon, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., studied 412 current smokers or recent quitters. They all had mild to moderate emphysema. Each person took either Azmacort -- six puffs twice a day of the 100 microgram dose -- or a placebo.

The patients underwent bone mineral density scans of the hip and lumbar spine at the start of the study and again after three months, one year, and three years. This is the most common test to determine osteoporosis risk.

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