Background: Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a progressive muscle disorder that occurs in males, causes a gradual decline in muscle strength. This progressive decline is associated with the development of scoliosis. Previous studies have shown that the use of glucocorticoids slows the progression of scoliosis, but it is unknown if the spine remains straight in the long term. We examined if glucocorticoid treatment has a long-term effect on the prevalence of scoliosis.
Methods: Fifty-four boys who had been diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy while they were still walking were enrolled in a non-randomized comparative study of the glucocorticoid deflazacort. The families of thirty boys elected for them to use glucocorticoid treatment and the families of twenty-four boys elected for them not to have this treatment. The boys were matched for important baseline characteristics including age and pulmonary function. Every four to six months, they were examined for the development of scoliosis, and the duration of follow-up for surviving patients was fifteen years. Because surgery was recommended for spinal curves measuring >20° on sitting posteroanterior radiographs, a curve of this magnitude was used as the definition for a patient developing scoliosis.
Results: Five boys (21%) in the non-treatment group and one boy (3%) in the glucocorticoid treatment group died. At the most recent follow-up, of the boys who survived, six (20%) in the glucocorticoid treatment group and twenty-two (92%) in the non-treatment group developed scoliosis and underwent spinal surgery. After fifteen years of follow-up, the survivorship analysis (avoiding surgery) was 78% (95% confidence interval, 57% to 89%) in the treatment group and 8.3% (95% confidence interval, 0.8% to 28%) in the non-treatment group. Significance (p = 5.8 × 10(-7)) was calculated with log-rank and chi-square tests. None of the patients in the glucocorticoid group developed scoliosis after ten years of deflazacort treatment.
Conclusion: The long-term use of the glucocorticoid results in a substantial decreased need for spinal surgery to treat scoliosis.