Introduction: The anabolic actions of growth hormone (GH) are well documented. In acromegaly, the skeletal effects of chronic GH excess have been mainly addressed by evaluating bone mineral density (BMD). Most data were obtained in patients with active acromegaly, and apparently high or normal BMD was observed in the absence of hypogonadism. Data on BMD are not available after successful treatment of acromegaly. Whether the positive effect of GH excess on bone mass is maintained in the long term after clinical and biochemical cure of acromegaly remains to be established.
Patients and methods: In a cross-sectional study design, lumbar spine and femoral neck BMD was measured in 79 acromegalic patients cured or well controlled on octreotide treatment (45 male and 34 female patients; mean age 57±1 years). Successful treatment (by surgery, radiotherapy and/or use of octreotide) was defined as normal age-adjusted IGF-I. Mean time after biochemical remission was 10.2±7 years.
Results: Normal or increased BMD was observed at the femoral neck and lumbar spine in both men and women in remission after treatment for acromegaly. Similar results were obtained in patients in remission for 5 years or longer. Osteoporosis was present in 15% of the patients, with similar prevalence in men and women. There was no relationship between BMD and duration or severity of GH excess before treatment, gonadal status and presence of pituitary hormone deficiencies. Pituitary irradiation was a strong negative predictor of bone mass at the femoral neck. Long-term bone loss was observed only at the femoral neck.
Conclusion: Our data suggest that the anabolic effect of GH on trabecular and cortical bone remains demonstrable after remission of acromegaly, although it may not be maintained at cortical sites in the long term. In the present study, the lack of effect of gonadal status on BMD may be explained by the presence of only mild hypogonadism and by our policy of prompt hormonal replacement therapy for severe hypogonadism. The negative effect of pituitary irradiation on femoral neck BMD remains intriguing, although it is probably related to some degree of the diminished GH secretion frequently observed after this form of treatment.