Alcohol-Related Cirrhosis Associated With Higher Risk of Fractures, Death

Carolyn Crist

July 27, 2022

Patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis have a higher fracture rate and a higher post-fracture mortality rate compared with the general population, according to a large new study from Sweden.

Alcohol-related cirrhosis was associated with an almost fourfold increased fracture rate, and the post-fracture mortality rates were higher at both 30 days and 1 year later.

“Half of all fractures were presumably associated with osteoporosis,” write the study authors, who are gastroenterologists and epidemiologists at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. "This suggests that existing pharmacotherapy for osteoporosis may reduce the fracture risk in patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis and possibly also reduce mortality rates.”

But, the authors continue, “our data indicate that osteoporosis may not be the only explanatory factor for this increased fracture risk. Removing modifiable risk factors such as smoking, heavy alcohol use, or malnutrition may further reduce the risk of fractures.”

The study was published online in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Analyzing Risks

The association between liver cirrhosis and fractures appears strongest in patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis, the most common cause of cirrhosis in many countries, including Sweden, the authors write.

Previous studies have examined mostly relative risk or hip fractures. The authors aimed to determine not only the relative risk but also the absolute risk, which "can better inform clinicians and policymakers of the actual size of the problem," they write.

In a nationwide population-based cohort study, they analyzed data from the Swedish National Patient Registry between 1969 and 2016, which included 25,090 patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis. Patients were matched for sex, age, and municipality with 239,458 controls from the Swedish Total Population Registry. They calculated the cumulative incidence of fractures and accounted for competing risks, such as death or liver transportation.

Overall, 48,635 fractures occurred during 3.4 million person-years of follow-up, including 3659 (14.6%) among patients and 44,976 (18.8%) among controls.

Patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis had a 3.8-times higher fracture rate, with 38.7 fractures per 1000 person-years compared with 13.3 in controls. Alcohol-related cirrhosis was also associated with a 1.9-times higher fracture rate than nonalcoholic cirrhosis and a 1.3-times higher fracture rate than noncirrhotic alcohol-related liver disease.

The cumulative incidence of fractures was elevated for patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis in the first 19 years of follow-up, with a 5-year risk at nearly 10% compared with 4.5% for controls, and a 10-year risk of 13.5% compared with 8.7% for controls.

Among those with a fracture, the median time to death was 2.8 years in patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis and 3.5 years in controls.

Patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis had a 1.6-times higher post-fracture mortality rate at 30 days, as well as a 1.8-times higher post-fracture mortality rate after one year.

“Falls and fractures kill patients with cirrhosis. Data like these are crucial to spread awareness and represent a call to arms,” Elliot Tapper, MD, an assistant professor of gastroenterology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, told Medscape Medical News.

Dr Elliot Tapper

Tapper, who wasn’t involved with this study, researches the health outcomes of patients with cirrhosis. His previous studies have found that falls, injuries, and death are common in patients with cirrhosis, which could be predicted with an algorithm based on a prior history of falls, blood sodium level, mobility, and quality of life.

“The data emphasize that a fall and fracture herald a time of increased risk,” he said. “Research is needed to develop interventions that prevent falls and help patients remain more resilient when they happen.”

Promoting Bone Health

Osteoporosis was the most common presumed mechanism in both patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis (49.4%) and controls (52.2%), while high-energy trauma from motor vehicle crashes or heights preceded 10.9% of fractures in patients and 13.5% in controls.

The Karolinska Institutet study found that patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis had a 4.4-times higher rate of osteoporotic fracture than controls, which remained 3.6-times higher when using a stricter definition of osteoporotic fracture (a diagnosis of osteoporosis before, at, or within 3 months from the date of a fracture of the vertebrae, pelvis, proximal humerus, distal forearm, or hip).

Patients with osteoporosis at baseline had a 2.5-times higher incidence of fractures than controls with baseline osteoporosis. The absolute risk of fractures in patients with alcohol-related cirrhosis and osteoporosis was higher than for controls with osteoporosis during the first 3 years after a cirrhosis diagnosis.

In addition, the post-fracture mortality rate in those with osteoporosis was more than double in patients with cirrhosis in the first 30 days after a fracture and more than tripled after one year.

“Bone health isn’t necessarily prioritized for our patients, even though it is linked to higher mortality and disability,” Arpan Patel, MD, PhD, a hepatologist at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center and assistant professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Medscape.

Dr Arpan Patel

Patel, who wasn’t involved with this study, has researched the associations between osteoporotic fracture risk, hospitalization, and death in patients with cirrhosis.

“Current guidelines support assessing post-liver transplant patients for bone density but do not currently advocate for doing so in patients with cirrhosis or alcohol-associated liver disease, who are a much larger at-risk population,” Patel said.

“The current paper supports the idea that we should consider the broad ramifications of alcohol use on bone health for our patients and suggests that there should be greater efforts to screen for and manage osteoporosis and osteopenia in our patients earlier,” he added.

The researchers were supported by grants from Region Stockholm and the Syskonen Svensson Foundation, though the funders had no role in the conduct of the study. The study authors reported no other disclosures or conflicts of interest. Tapper and Patel report no relevant financial relationships. 

CGH. Published online July 7, 2022. Full text.

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