Bone densitometry: Assessing the effects of growth hormone treatment in adults

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Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) is the reference method for the measurement of bone mineral mass at different skeletal sites. It has been widely used in recent years to assess the effects of growth hormone (GH) treatment on bone metabolism. In normal individuals, bone mineral content (BMC) and density (BMD), as assessed using DXA, correlate with body size. Therefore, using DXA in patients with congenital GH deficiency (GHD), who have a smaller body frame, would be expected to result in lower bone mass. Thus, comparisons with reference data derived from populations of normal body size are invalid. The evaluation of the effects of GH administration should take into account the possible effects of GH on bone size, not only in children, but also in adults. The enlargement of bone, due to stimulation of the periosteal apposition, may partially mask an increase in BMC, resulting in little or no change in BMD. The ability of GH to affect bone area therefore requires analysis of the possible changes in bone area and BMC, as well as BMD. This issue has been poorly handled in the studies published to date. Lastly, the acceleration of bone turnover induced by GH leads to an increase in bone remodelling space, which in turn is associated with a reduction in BMC and BMD, independent of the net balance between breakdown and formation in each metabolic unit. This bone loss is completely reversible when the remodelling space returns to previous levels. This phenomenon must be taken into account when analysing the effects of GH treatment on bone mass, because a net gain in bone mass may be found in long-term GH treatment or after GH discontinuation, even if bone loss was evident during the first 6 months of treatment. In conclusion, the interpretation of bone density data in patients with GHD, and after GH administration, should take into account some of the methodological aspects of bone densitometry, as well as the specific actions of GH on bone metabolism and body composition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-23
Number of pages5
JournalHormone Research
Issue numberSUPPL. 1
Publication statusPublished - 2000


  • Bone densitometry
  • Bone mineral density
  • Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry
  • Growth hormone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology


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