Decreased bone mineral density during low dose glucocorticoid administration in a randomized, placebo controlled trial

Robin McKenzie, J. C. Reynolds, A. O'Fallon, J. Dale, Maria Deloria Knoll, W. Blackwelder, S. E. Straus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objective. While osteoporosis and bone fractures are clearly recognized side effects of high dose glucocorticoids, the effect of low dose glucocorticoids remains controversial. We investigated the effect of 3 months of low dose hydrocortisone on bone mineral density (BMD). Methods. Subjects, 18 to 55 years old with chronic fatigue syndrome and no medical or psychiatric illness requiring medication, were randomized in a double blind, placebo controlled trial to receive oral hydrocortisone, 13 mg/m2 body surface area every morning and 3 mg/m2 every afternoon (25 to 35 mg/day, equivalent to about 7.5 mg prednisone/day) or placebo for 12 weeks. Before and after treatment BMD of the lumbar spine was measured by dual energy x-ray absorptiometry. Results. We studied 23 subjects (19 women, 4 men). For the 11 hydrocortisone recipients there was a mean decrease in BMD: mean change from baseline of the lateral spine was -2.0% (95% CI -3.5 to -0.6, p = 0.03) and mean change of the anteroposterior spine was -0.8% (95% CI -1.5 to -0.1, p = 0.06). Corresponding changes for the 12 placebo recipients were -1.0% (95% CI -1.0 to 3.0, p = 0.34) and +0.2% (95% CI -1.4 to 1.5, p = 0.76). Conclusion. A 12 week course of low dose glucocorticoids given to ambulatory subjects with chronic fatigue syndrome was associated with a decrease in BMD of the lumbar spine. This decrease was statistically significant in lateral spine measurements and nearly so in anteroposterior spine measurements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2222-2226
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Rheumatology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes



  • Absorptiometry
  • Bone density
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Osteoporosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology
  • Immunology

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