Objective: To determine the extent of significant osteopenia in prepubertal patients with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) not treated with corticosteroids and to identify variables that are highly related to bone mineralization in this population.
Methods: In a cross-sectional study, 48 JRA patients and 25 healthy control subjects ages 4.6-11.0 years were evaluated. Total body bone mineral density (TB BMD) was determined by Hologic dual energy x-ray absorptiometry. All patients were prepubertal (Tanner stage I or II) and had never taken corticosteroids. For comparison, JRA patients were divided into "low" TB BMD (Z score < or =-1) or "normal" TB BMD (Z score >-1).
Results: The overall mean +/- SD TB BMD scores did not differ between the JRA subjects (0.75 +/- 0.06 gm/cm2) and controls (0.73 +/- 0.07 gm/cm2; P > 0.30). However, 29.2% of the JRA patients had low TB BMD, whereas only 16% would be expected to have low TB BMD based on the standard normal distribution (goodness of fit chi(2) = 4.84, P = 0.01). The mean Z score for the JRA patients with low TB BMD was -1.43, and for those with normal TB BMD, it was 0.32. The JRA subjects with low TB BMD were significantly younger, had more active articular disease, greater physical function limitation, higher erythrocyte sedimentation rate, higher joint count severity score, lower body mass index, lower lean body mass, less participation in organized sports, and more protein and vitamin D in their diet compared with JRA patients with normal TB BMD (all P < 0.05). Using logistic regression, a model including age at JRA onset, Juvenile Arthritis Functional Assessment Report (JAFAR) score, triceps skin-fold percentiles, percentage US recommended daily allowance for dietary magnesium intake, and serum 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D levels was able to accurately segregate 79.6% of the JRA subjects into either the low or normal TB BMD groups (chi(2) = 20.5, P = 0.001).
Conclusion: This study demonstrated that in a mildly to moderately ill prepubertal JRA population that had never been exposed to corticosteroids, almost 30% had significantly low TB BMD. The patients with low TB BMD had more active and severe articular disease and greater physical function limitation. Disease-related parameters in JRA appear to exert a negative effect on bone mineralization even in prepubertal children, which can be demonstrated despite the exclusion of corticosteroid-treated patients.