Glucocorticoid-induced avascular bone necrosis: diagnosis and management

Open Orthop J. 2012;6:449-57. doi: 10.2174/1874325001206010449. Epub 2012 Oct 5.


Glucocorticoid use is one of the most important causes of avascular bone necrosis (AVN). The pathogenesis of glucocorticoid-induced AVN is not fully understood but postulated mechanisms include fat hypertrophy, fat emboli and intravascular coagulation that cause impedance of blood supply to the bones. Data regarding the relationship between AVN and dosage, route of administration and treatment duration of glucocorticoids are conflicting, with some studies demonstrating the cumulative dose of glucocorticoid being the most important determining factor. Early recognition of this complication is essential as the prognosis is affected by the stage of the disease. Currently, there is no consensus on whether universal screening of asymptomatic AVN should be performed for long-term glucocorticoid users. A high index of suspicion should be exhibited for bone and joint pain at typical sites. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or bone scintigraphy is more sensitive than plain radiograph for diagnosing early-stage AVN. Conservative management of AVN includes rest and reduction of weight bearing. Minimization of glucocorticoid dose or a complete withdrawal of the drug should be considered if the underlying conditions allow. The efficacy of bisphosphonates in reducing the rate of collapse of femoral head in AVN is controversial. Surgical therapy of AVN includes core decompression, osteotomy, bone grafting and joint replacement. Recent advances in the treatment of AVN include the use of tantalum rod and the development of more wear resistant bearing surface in hip arthroplasty.

Keywords: Avascular; aseptic necrosis; corticosteroid; glucocorticoid.; osteonecrosis.