Bisphosphonates for osteoporosis in people with cystic fibrosis

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2023 Jan 10;1(1):CD002010. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002010.pub5.


Background: Osteoporosis is a disorder of bone mineralisation occurring in about one third of adults with cystic fibrosis. Bisphosphonates can increase bone mineral density and decrease the risk of new fractures in post-menopausal women and people receiving long-term oral corticosteroids. This is an updated version of a previous review.

Objectives: To assess the effects of bisphosphonates on the frequency of fractures, bone mineral density, quality of life, adverse events, trial withdrawals, and survival in people with cystic fibrosis.

Search methods: We searched the Cystic Fibrosis and Genetic Disorders Group's Trials Register of references (identified from electronic database searches and hand searches of journals and abstract books) on 5 May 2022. We performed additional searches of PubMed, and the WHO ICTRP (International Clinical Trials Registry Platform) on 5 May 2022.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials of at least six months duration studying bisphosphonates in people with cystic fibrosis.

Data collection and analysis: Authors independently selected trials, extracted data and assessed risk of bias in included studies. Trial investigators were contacted to obtain missing data. We judged the certainty of the evidence using GRADE.

Main results: We included nine trials with a total of 385 participants (272 adults and 113 children (aged five to 18 years)). Trial durations ranged from six months to two years. Only two of the studies were considered to have a low risk of bias for all the domains. Bisphosphonates compared to control in people with cystic fibrosis who have not had a lung transplant Seven trials included only adult participants without lung transplants, one trial included both adults and children without lung transplantation (total of 238 adults and 113 children). We analysed adults (n = 238) and children (n = 113) separately. Adults Three trials assessed intravenous bisphosphonates (one assessed pamidronate and two assessed zoledronate) and five trials assessed oral bisphosphonates (one assessed risedronate and four assessed alendronate). Bisphosphonates were compared to either placebo or calcium (with or without additional vitamin D). Data showed no difference between treatment or control groups in new vertebral fractures at 12 months (odds ratio (OR) 0.22, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.02 to 2.09; 5 trials, 142 participants; very low-certainty evidence) and two trials (44 participants) reported no vertebral fractures at 24 months. There was no difference in non-vertebral fractures at 12 months (OR 2.11, 95% CI 0.18 to 25.35; 4 trials, 95 participants; very low-certainty evidence) and again two trials (44 participants) reported no non-vertebral fractures at 24 months. There was no difference in total fractures between groups at 12 months (OR 0.57, 95% CI 0.13 to 2.50; 5 trials, 142 participants) and no fractures were reported in two trials (44 participants) at 24 months. At 12 months, bisphosphonates may increase bone mineral density at the lumbar spine (mean difference (MD) 6.31, 95% CI 5.39 to 7.22; 6 trials, 171 participants; low-certainty evidence) and at the hip or femur (MD 4.41, 95% 3.44 to 5.37; 5 trials, 155 participants; low-certainty evidence). There was no clear difference in quality of life scores at 12 months (1 trial, 47 participants; low-certainty evidence), but bisphosphonates probably led to more adverse events (bone pain) at 12 months (OR 8.49, 95% CI 3.20 to 22.56; 7 trials, 206 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). Children The single trial in 113 children compared oral alendronate to placebo. We graded all evidence as low certainty. At 12 months we found no difference between treatment and placebo in new vertebral fractures (OR 0.32, 95% CI 0.03 to 3.13; 1 trial, 113 participants) and non-vertebral fractures (OR 0.19, 95% CI 0.01 to 4.04; 1 trial, 113 participants). There was also no difference in total fractures (OR 0.18, 95% CI 0.02 to 1.61; 1 trial, 113 participants). Bisphosphonates may increase bone mineral density at the lumbar spine at 12 months (MD 14.50, 95% CI 12.91 to 16.09). There was no difference in bone or muscle pain (MD 3.00, 95% CI 0.12 to 75.22), fever (MD 3.00, 95% CI 0.12 to 75.22) or gastrointestinal adverse events (OR 0.67, 95% CI 0.20 to 2.26). The trial did not measure bone mineral density at the hip/femur or report on quality of life. Bisphosphonates compared to control in people with cystic fibrosis who have had a lung transplant One trial of 34 adults who had undergone lung transplantation compared intravenous pamidronate to no bisphosphonate treatment. It did not report at 12 months and we report the 24-month data (not assessed by GRADE). There was no difference in the number of fractures, either vertebral or non-vertebral. However, bone mineral density increased with treatment at the lumbar spine (MD 6.20, 95% CI 4.28 to 8.12) and femur (MD 7.90, 95% CI 5.78 to 10.02). No participants in either group reported either bone pain or fever. The trial did not measure quality of life.

Authors' conclusions: Oral and intravenous bisphosphonates may increase bone mineral density in people with cystic fibrosis, but there are insufficient data to determine whether treatment reduces fractures. Severe bone pain and flu-like symptoms may occur with intravenous bisphosphonates. Before any firm conclusions can be drawn, trials in larger populations, including children, and of longer duration are needed to determine effects on fracture rate and survival. Additional trials are needed to determine if bone pain is more common or severe (or both) with the more potent zoledronate and if corticosteroids can ameliorate or prevent these adverse events. Future trials should also assess gastrointestinal adverse effects associated with oral bisphosphonates.

Trial registration: NCT01702415 NCT01882400.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alendronate / therapeutic use
  • Bone Density Conservation Agents* / adverse effects
  • Child
  • Cystic Fibrosis* / complications
  • Cystic Fibrosis* / drug therapy
  • Diphosphonates / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Fractures, Bone* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Musculoskeletal Pain* / chemically induced
  • Osteoporosis* / drug therapy
  • Pamidronate / therapeutic use
  • Quality of Life
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Spinal Fractures*
  • Zoledronic Acid / therapeutic use


  • Alendronate
  • Bone Density Conservation Agents
  • Diphosphonates
  • Pamidronate
  • Zoledronic Acid

Associated data