Objective: To assess the effect of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) on bone mass in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients treated with and those not treated with steroids.
Methods: Two hundred postmenopausal women with RA (ages 45-65 years) were randomly allocated to receive transdermal estradiol (hormone replacement therapy; HRT) (50 micrograms daily) or calcium supplementation (400 mg daily) for 2 years. Forty-two of the patients (21%) were taking corticosteroids. Bone mineral density of the lumbar spine (BMDLS) and of the proximal femur (BMDF) was measured at study entry and at 12 months and 24 months.
Results: In the HRT group overall, mean BMDLS had changed by +2.22% (95% confidence interval [95% CI] +0.72, +3.72) and mean BMDF by -0.41% (95% CI -1.89, +1.07) after 24 months. In the calcium group, mean BMDLS changed by -1.19% (95% CI -2.29, -0.09) and mean BMDF by -0.56% (95% CI -2.60, +1.48). Differences between treatment groups were significant for the spine only (P < 0.001). In the 21 HRT-treated patients taking steroids, BMDLS increased by 3.75% (95% CI +0.72, +6.78) and BMDF by 1.62% (95% CI -1.27, +4.51).
Conclusion: This study shows that HRT increases spinal BMD and maintains femoral BMD in postmenopausal RA. HRT is also an effective agent in preserving bone mass in patients taking low-dose corticosteroids.