Nocebo-associated treatment discontinuation with subcutaneous anti-osteoporotic drugs. A systematic review and meta-analysis of placebo-arm dropouts in randomized-controlled trials

Maturitas. 2024 Jan:179:107874. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2023.107874. Epub 2023 Oct 31.


Objective: Nocebo is a concept of therapeutics referring to unpleasant symptoms attributed by a patient to a drug, due to negative anticipation. Patients receiving oral anti-osteoporotic drugs in randomized controlled trials (RCT) can experience adverse events leading to dropout, implying that nocebo contributes to treatment discontinuation for these drugs. In this study we aim to investigate the nocebo effect of subcutaneous anti-osteoporotic drugs with a higher compliance rate than orally administered drugs.

Study design: We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, SCOPUS, and Cochrane databases for double-blind trials investigating subcutaneous anti-osteoporotic drugs for osteoporosis (namely, denosumab, teriparatide, abaloparatide and romosozumab) published up to May 2023.

Main outcome measure: Dropouts due to reported adverse events in the placebo arms ("nocebo dropouts").

Results: Data from 17 trials were extracted. Among 10,529 placebo-treated patients the pooled nocebo-dropout percentage was 3 % for denosumab (average: 0.03; 95 % CI: 0.01-0.05), 1 % for romosozumab (average: 0.01; 95 % CI: 0.00-0.03) and 6 % for teriparatide and abaloparatide (average: 0.06; 95 % CI: 0.05-0.07). Nocebo-dropouts were significantly higher in men than women (6 % vs. 3 %, respectively, p = 0.012), in older (mean age >68 years) than in younger patients (5 % vs. 1 %, respectively, p = 0.017) and in those with more severe osteoporosis (based on the percentage of participants with prior fragility-related fractures in the study cohort) compared with patients with no prior fracture history (4 % vs. 1 %, respectively, p = 0.046).

Conclusion: Nocebo responses may contribute to treatment discontinuation with subcutaneous anti-osteoporotic drugs in clinical practice. Higher nocebo-related dropout rates in the higher-risk RCT population (older patients, males, those with prior fractures) show that nocebo mechanisms have the potential to hinder therapeutic efforts to specific populations who would benefit most. Prospero registration number CRD42020212843.

Keywords: Abaloparatide; Age; Denosumab; Male osteoporosis; Nocebo; Osteoporosis; Romosozumab; Teriparatide; Treatment non-adherence.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Bone Density Conservation Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Denosumab / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Fractures, Bone* / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nocebo Effect
  • Osteoporosis* / drug therapy
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Teriparatide / therapeutic use


  • Teriparatide
  • Denosumab
  • Bone Density Conservation Agents