Purpose: To determine the effect of long-term intermittent cyclic etidronate treatment on spinal bone density and vertebral fracture rates.
Patients and methods: Postmenopausal osteoporotic women (n = 423) were randomized initially into a 2-year, double-blind, multicenter study; it was extended to a third year of blinded treatment followed by open-label treatment: 357 patients continued treatment in Year 3 (305 receiving blinded therapy and 52 receiving calcium supplementation) and 277 in Year 4. During Years 1 through 3, patients received double-blind treatment with phosphate (1.0 g) or placebo twice daily for 3 days, etidronate (400 mg) or placebo daily for 14 days, and calcium (500 mg) daily for the remainder of each 91-day treatment cycle. During Year 4, open-label intermittent cyclic etidronate therapy (without preceding phosphate) was administered to all patients. Spinal bone density and vertebral fracture rates were the main outcome measures.
Results: During Year 3, etidronate therapy maintained the significant increases in spinal bone mineral density of the first 2 years. Over the 3-year period, proximal femur bone density increased in etidronate-treated patients. Etidronate therapy for 3 years significantly decreased the vertebral fracture rate in patients at higher risk for fracture (low spinal bone density and three or more vertebral fractures at study entry), as compared with nonetidronate treatment (228 versus 412 fractures per 1,000 patient-years, respectively; p < 0.05). After 1 year of open-label treatment, patients previously treated with etidronate maintained bone mass, and vertebral fracture rates in all groups were lower than in any other study period. There were no apparent serious adverse effects.
Conclusions: Three years of intermittent cyclic etidronate therapy produced significant increases in spinal and hip bone density, with a significant reduction in vertebral fracture rates in patients at higher fracture risk. Maintenance of bone mass and low fracture rate were observed when etidronate was continued for an additional year.