A low serum alkaline phosphatase may signal hypophosphatasia in osteoporosis clinic patients

Elisabeth Ng, Claudia Ashkar, Ego Seeman, Hans G. Schneider, Hanh Nguyen, Peter R. Ebeling, Shoshana Sztal-Mazer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Summary: Low serum alkaline phosphatase (ALP) was found in 9% of patients attending an osteoporosis clinic, 0.6% of hospital patients, and 2/22 with an atypical femoral fracture. Hypophosphatasia was diagnosed in 3% of osteoporosis clinic patients with low ALP. Low ALP is a screening tool for hypophosphatasia, a condition potentially aggravated by antiresorptive therapy. Introduction: Hypophosphatasia (HPP) is an inherited disorder associated with impaired primary mineralisation of osteoid (osteomalacia). HPP may be misdiagnosed as osteoporosis, a reduction in the volume of normally mineralized bone. Both illnesses may result in fragility fractures, although stress and atypical fractures are more common in HPP. Antiresorptive therapy, first-line treatment for osteoporosis, is relatively contraindicated in HPP. Misdiagnosis and mistreatment can be avoided by recognising a low serum alkaline phosphatase (ALP). Our aim was to determine the prevalence of a low ALP (< 30 IU/L) in patients attending an osteoporosis clinic, in a hospital-wide setting, and in a group of patients with atypical femoral fractures (AFF). Methods: This was a retrospective study of patients attending an osteoporosis clinic at a tertiary hospital during 8 years (2012–2020). Patients were categorised into those with a transiently low ALP, those with low ALP on ≥ 2 occasions but not the majority of measurements, and those with a persistently low ALP. ALP levels were also assessed in hospital-wide records and a group of patients with AFF. Results: Of 1839 patients attending an osteoporosis clinic, 168 (9%) had ≥ 1 low ALP, 50 (2.7%) had low ALP for ≥ 2 months, and seven (0.4%) had persistently low ALP levels. HPP was diagnosed in five patients, four of whom had persistently low ALP levels. The prevalence of HPP was 0.3% in the osteoporosis clinic and 3% in patients with ≥ 1 low ALP. Low ALP occurred in 0.6% of all hospital patients and 2/22 with AFF. Conclusion: Persistently low ALP in osteoporosis clinic attendees is easy to identify and signals the possibility of hypophosphatasia, a condition that may be mistaken for osteoporosis and incorrectly treated with antiresorptive therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327–337
Number of pages11
JournalOsteoporosis International
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • Alkaline phosphatase
  • Bisphosphonate
  • Hypophosphatasemia
  • Hypophosphatasia
  • Osteoporosis

Cite this