Background: Once-daily injections of parathyroid hormone or its amino-terminal fragments increase bone formation and bone mass without causing hypercalcemia, but their effects on fractures are unknown.
Methods: We randomly assigned 1637 postmenopausal women with prior vertebral fractures to receive 20 or 40 microg of parathyroid hormone (1-34) or placebo, administered subcutaneously by the women daily. We obtained vertebral radiographs at base line and at the end of the study (median duration of observation, 21 months) and performed serial measurements of bone mass by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry.
Results: New vertebral fractures occurred in 14 percent of the women in the placebo group and in 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively, of the women in the 20-microg and 40-microg parathyroid hormone groups; the respective relative risks of fracture in the 20-microg and 40-microg groups, as compared with the placebo group, were 0.35 and 0.31 (95 percent confidence intervals, 0.22 to 0.55 and 0.19 to 0.50). New nonvertebral fragility fractures occurred in 6 percent of the women in the placebo group and in 3 percent of those in each parathyroid hormone group (relative risk, 0.47 and 0.46, respectively [95 percent confidence intervals, 0.25 to 0.88 and 0.25 to 0.861). As compared with placebo, the 20-microg and 40-microg doses of parathyroid hormone increased bone mineral density by 9 and 13 more percentage points in the lumbar spine and by 3 and 6 more percentage points in the femoral neck; the 40-microg dose decreased bone mineral density at the shaft of the radius by 2 more percentage points. Both doses increased total-body bone mineral by 2 to 4 more percentage points than did placebo. Parathyroid hormone had only minor side effects (occasional nausea and headache).
Conclusions: Treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis with parathyroid hormone (1-34) decreases the risk of vertebral and nonvertebral fractures; increases vertebral, femoral, and total-body bone mineral density; and is well tolerated. The 40-microg dose increased bone mineral density more than the 20-microg dose but had similar effects on the risk of fracture and was more likely to have side effects.