Relationship between systemic corticosteroids and osteonecrosis

Am J Clin Dermatol. 2001;2(6):377-88. doi: 10.2165/00128071-200102060-00004.


Numerous reports describe osteonecrosis after oral corticosteroid therapy. It is still uncertain if corticosteroid treatment alone or in combination with other factors leads to the development of this condition. The literature presents controversial clinical and experimental data. The most affected site for osteonecrosis is the femoral head and therefore our considerations are concentrated at this site. Oral corticosteroids are commonly used in dermatology, especially in the treatment of connective tissue diseases and hypersensitive diseases. This clinical review evaluates the relationship between and the onset of femoral head necrosis. Although osteonecrosis of the femoral head can be caused by various conditions such as trauma, excess alcohol and hemoglobinopathies, studies indicate that treatment with corticosteroids is the most common cause of the condition. There is some controversy on the role of underlying disease and total corticosteroid dose administered, in the development of osteonecrosis of the femoral head. MRI scans are used to establish an early diagnosis. There are several surgical and nonsurgical options for disease management, dependent on the stage of disease, the age of the patient and other risk factors. In general, the risk for osteonecrosis is considered to be low under oral corticosteroid therapy. So far, no data can establish a direct relationship, but data still strongly suggest an existing cause and effect relationship. Further investigations are necessary for example, a large controlled prospective long-term study, to further refine an association between the corticosteroid dose, the duration of treatment and other risk factors. Dermatologists who prescribe oral corticosteroids, should always be aware of the potential risk of avascular femoral head necrosis and the patients should be informed about this severe complication of oral coricosteroid therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / adverse effects*
  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Hip / methods
  • Female
  • Femur Head Necrosis / chemically induced*
  • Femur Head Necrosis / diagnosis
  • Femur Head Necrosis / therapy
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Prognosis


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Immunosuppressive Agents