Background: The efficacy of antiresorptive therapy in preventing fractures in women at highest fracture risk, such as very elderly women or those with severe osteoporosis, is uncertain.
Participants and methods: Using data from a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial that enrolled 2027 postmenopausal women aged 55 to 81 years with low femoral neck bone mineral density (BMD) and existing vertebral fractures, we examined the consistency of the effect of treatment with alendronate sodium in preventing fractures within a priori-specified risk subgroups defined at baseline by age, bone density, number of preexisting vertebral fractures, and history of postmenopausal fracture. The women were randomized to oral administration of alendronate or placebo and followed up for an average of 2.9 years. The initial dose of alendronate sodium was 5 mg/d; the dosage was increased from 5 to 10 mg/d at 24 months. New vertebral fractures, the primary end point of this arm of the trial, were defined by morphometry as a decrease of 20% and at least 4 mm in any vertebral height between baseline and a follow-up radiograph at 36 months. Incident clinical fractures, the secondary end point, included nonspine and clinical (symptomatic) vertebral fractures. All clinical fractures were confirmed with x-ray film reports or, in the case of clinical vertebral fractures, x-ray films.
Results: Overall, there was a 47% significant reduction in risk of new vertebral fractures in the alendronate group compared with the placebo group. The reduction in risk of new vertebral fracture was consistent across fracture risk categories including age (relative risk [RR], 0.49 in women < 75 years compared with 0.62 in those > or = 75 years), BMD (RR, 0.54 in women with a femoral neck BMD < 0.59 g/cm2 [median] compared with 0.53 in those with a BMD > or = 0.59 g/cm2), and number of preexisting vertebral fractures (RR, 0.58 in women with 1 vertebral fracture compared with 0.52 in those with > or = 2). The overall significant 28% reduction in risk of incident clinical fractures in the alendronate group compared with the placebo group was also observed within these subgroups. Compared with the number of lower-risk women, a similar or smaller number of high-risk women needed to be treated to prevent 1 fracture. For example, 8 women aged 75 years or older compared with 9 women younger than 75 years, or 4 women with 2 or more existing vertebral fractures compared with 16 women with 1 existing vertebral fracture, needed to be treated with alendronate for 5 years to prevent 1 new vertebral fracture.
Conclusions: Alendronate effectively reduces fracture risk in postmenopausal women with vertebral fractures and low BMD, including those women at highest risk because of advanced age or severe osteoporosis. Since the risk reductions observed with alendronate treatment were consistent within fracture risk categories, more fractures were prevented by treating women at highest risk.