Objectives. Diminished bone density and a propensity to fracture with minimal trauma are common in children and adolescents with moderate to severe cerebral palsy (CP). The purpose of this study was to provide a detailed evaluation of bone mineral density (BMD) and metabolism in this population and to assess the relationship of these measures to multiple other clinical, growth, and nutrition variables.
Methods. The study group consisted of 117 subjects ages 2 to 19 years (mean: 9.7 years) with moderate to severe CP as defined by the Gross Motor Functional Classification scale. Population-based sampling was used to recruit 62 of the participants, which allows for estimations of prevalence. The remaining 55 subjects were a convenience sampling from both hospital- and school-based sources. The evaluation included measures of BMD, a detailed anthropometric assessment of growth and nutritional status, medical and surgical history, the Child Health Status Questionnaire, and multiple serum analyses. BMD was measured in the distal femur, a site specifically developed for use in this contracted population, and the lumbar spine. BMD measures were converted to age and gender normalized z scores based on our own previously published control series (n > 250).
Results. Osteopenia (BMD z score <−2.0) was found in the femur of 77% of the population-based cohort and in 97% of all study participants who were unable to stand and were older than 9 years. BMD was not as low in the lumbar spine (population-based cohort mean ± standard error z score: −1.8 ± 0.1) as in the distal femur (mean z score: −3.1 ± 0.2). Fractures had occurred in 26% of the children who were older than 10 years. Multiple clinical and nutritional variables correlated with BMD z scores, but interpretation of these findings is complicated by covariance among variables. In stepwise regression analyses, it was found that severity of neurologic impairment as graded by Gross Motor Functional Classification level, increasing difficulty feeding the child, use of anticonvulsants, and lower triceps skinfold z scores (in decreasing order of importance) all independently contribute to lower BMD z scores in the femur.
Conclusions. Low BMD is prevalent in children with moderate to severe CP and is associated with significant fracture risk. The underlying pathophysiology is complex, with multiple factors contributing to the problem and significant variation between different regions of the skeleton.