Societies offer advice on treating osteoporosis patients during pandemic


Five leading bone health organizations have gotten together to provide new recommendations for managing patients with osteoporosis during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The joint guidance – released by the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR), the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, the Endocrine Society, the European Calcified Tissue Society, and the National Osteoporosis Foundation – offered both general and specific recommendations for patients whose osteoporosis treatment plan is either continuing or has been disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the general recommendations are to initiate oral bisphosphonate therapy over either the telephone or through a video visit, with no delays for patients at high risk of fracture. They also noted that, as elective procedures, bone mineral density examinations may need to be postponed.

For patients already on osteoporosis medications – such as oral and IV bisphosphonates, denosumab, estrogen, raloxifene, teriparatide, abaloparatide, and romosozumab – they recommend continuing treatment whenever possible. “There is no evidence that any osteoporosis therapy increases the risk or severity of COVID-19 infection or alters the disease course,” they wrote. They did add, however, that COVID-19 may increase the risk of hypercoagulable complications and so caution should be exercised when treating patients with estrogen or raloxifene.

Separately, in a letter to the editor published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (doi: 10.1210/clinem/dgaa254), Ruban Dhaliwal, MD, MPH, of the State University of New York, Syracuse, and coauthors concur in regard to raloxifene. They wrote that, because of the increased risk of thromboembolic events related to COVID-19, “it is best to discontinue raloxifene, which is also associated with such risk.”

The joint statement recognizes current social distancing policies and therefore recommends avoiding standard pretreatment labs prior to IV bisphosphonate and/or denosumab administration if previous labs were normal and the patient’s recent health has been deemed “stable.” Lab evaluation is recommended, however, for patients with fluctuating renal function and for those at higher risk of developing hypocalcemia.

The statement also provides potential alternative methods for delivering parenteral osteoporosis treatments, including off-site clinics, home delivery and administration, self-injection of denosumab and/or romosozumab, and drive-through administration of denosumab and/or romosozumab. They acknowledged the complications surrounding each alternative, including residents of “socioeconomically challenged communities” being unable to reach clinics if public transportation is not available and the “important medicolegal issues” to consider around self-injection.

For all patients whose treatments have been disrupted, the authors recommend frequent reevaluation “with the goal to resume the original osteoporosis treatment plan once circumstances allow.” As for specific recommendations, patients on denosumab who will not be treatable within 7 months of their previous injection should be transitioned to oral bisphosphonate if at all possible. For patients with underlying gastrointestinal disorders, they recommend monthly ibandronate or weekly/monthly risedronate; for patients with chronic renal insufficiency, they recommend an off-label regimen of lower dose oral bisphosphonate.

For patients on teriparatide or abaloparatide who will be unable to receive continued treatment, they recommend a delay in treatment. If that delay goes beyond several months, they recommend a temporary transition to oral bisphosphonate. For patients on romosozumab who will be unable to receive continued treatment, they also recommend a delay in treatment and a temporary transition to oral bisphosphonate. Finally, they expressed confidence that patients on IV bisphosphonates will not be harmed by treatment delays, even those of several months.

“I think we could fall into a trap during this era of the pandemic and fail to address patients’ underlying chronic conditions, even though those comorbidities will end up greatly affecting their overall health,” said incoming ASBMR president Suzanne Jan de Beur, MD, of the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. “As we continue to care for our patients, we need to keep chronic conditions like osteoporosis on the radar screen and not stop diagnosing people at risk or those who present with fractures. Even when we can’t perform full screening tests due to distancing policies, we need to be vigilant for those patients who need treatment and administer the treatments we have available as needed.”

The statement’s authors acknowledged the limitations of their recommendations, noting that “there is a paucity of data to provide clear guidance” and as such they were “based primarily on expert opinion.”

The authors from the five organizations did not disclose any conflicts of interest.

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