Bone resorption is increased in young adults with thalassaemia major

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Bone disease in patients with thalassaemia major is a multifactorial and still poorly understood process. The present study evaluated 45 thalassaemic patients using dual X-ray absorptiometry at three sites (lumbar spine, head of femur and forearm) to assess bone mineral density, in parallel with a series of biochemical markers to measure bone formation and bone resorption. To identify possible interfering factors, our patients were grouped according to whether or not they needed transfusion therapy; the presence of hypogonadism was also considered. Our results showed that patients on regular transfusions had a markedly low bone mineral density in contrast to those not requiring blood support and that this finding was more pronounced in the hypogonadic group, irrespectively of sex. The decrease of bone mineral density values was more prominent in the forearm, thus making this site particularly interesting for such studies. Bone formation, as evidenced by the levels of serum alkaline phosphatase and osteocalcin, did not appear to be impaired, while bone resorption was grossly increased in all patient groups. The latter process was clearly evident using the recently introduced measurement of the urinary N-terminal peptides of collagen type I, the sensitivity of which has already been established in other groups of osteoporotic patients. Our conclusion is that, in spite of the severe bone destruction that occurs in thalassaemia major, the fact that bone formation remains intact calls for a more intensive treatment comprising hormonal replacement, bisphosphonates and other agents.

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