Although osteonecrosis of femoral head (ONF) is one of the serious complications in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) associated with corticosteroid therapy, there has been few trials of prevention of ONF described. We aimed to prevent ONF in steroid-treated SLE patients using anticoagulant, warfarin, conducting a multicenter prospective study. Sixty newly diagnosed SLE patients requiring 40 mg/day or more prednisolone were alternately assigned to either of two groups; a warfarin group and a control one. Warfarin (1-5 mg/day) was started together with the beginning of steroid therapy and continued at least for three months. Patients were observed for the development of silent ONF by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and symptomatic ONF by plain radiography for over five years. The warfarin group consisted of 31 patients (62 hips) and the control one 29 patients (58 hips). Silent ONF developed in 13 hips (21%) and 19 hips (33%) in the warfarin group and the control group, respectively (P = 0.13). On the other hand, warfarin tended to prevent symptomatic ONF; only three hips of 62 (4.8%) in the warfarin group and eight hips of 58 (14%) in the control group (P = 0.08) developed silent ONF. It was also found that silent ONF developed, if it did, very early; within three months in 16 of 18 patients (89%). Among risk factors for silent ONF, steroid pulse therapy was most outstanding and it seemed to overcome the effect of warfarin. Taken together, for the time being, anticoagulant therapy, if not significantly sufficient, may be of use for the prevention of steroid-induced ONF in SLE. We consider that this study added to important evidence for the pathogenesis and prevention of ONF.
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