Pathogenesis and management of primary osteoporosis

Clin Pharm. 1986 Aug;5(8):639-59.


The pathophysiology of primary osteoporosis and the various therapeutic regimens that have been used are reviewed. Osteoporosis is a major public health problem because the incidence of hip, wrist, and vertebral fractures associated with bone loss is high. Postmenopausal women are at increased risk for developing osteoporosis because bone mineral content is lower in women than in men, dietary calcium intake is frequently insufficient, intestinal absorption of calcium decreases with age, and the rate of bone loss accelerates at menopause. The efficacy of many single and combination therapies in preventing or treating osteoporosis has been studied. Differences in study design and diagnostic techniques and the heterogeneous nature of osteoporosis make evaluation of clinical trials difficult. Exercise helps to maintain skeletal mass, but amenorrhea caused by vigorous activity may be harmful. The efficacy of estrogen replacement therapy is documented best; many studies have shown that estrogens slow the rate of bone loss and reduce the incidence of fractures, but the association of estrogen use with endometrial cancer and breast cancer is of concern. Progesterones may protect against endometrial cancer, but undesirable effects of oral contraceptives have resulted in a hesitancy to use combination hormonal therapy. All adults should meet daily nutritional requirements for calcium, but this intake may be insufficient for elderly persons and is below recommended doses for treating osteoporosis. A daily intake of at least 1000-1500 mg of elemental calcium has been shown to slow the rate of bone loss. Nutritional requirements for vitamin D should be met, but benefits from pharmacologic doses have not been demonstrated. The role of fluoride, calcitonin, anabolic steroids, and vitamin D metabolites is unclear. Fluoride has the potential to increase bone mass, but effects on bone histology and fracture rates require further study. The major goals for the management of osteoporosis are maintenance of bone mass and prevention of fractures. An adequate intake of calcium and regular weight-bearing exercise are important preventive measures. Despite the documented effectiveness of estrogens, risks associated with long-term use are of concern.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / therapeutic use
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism
  • Calcium, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Estrogens / adverse effects
  • Estrogens / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Fluorides / adverse effects
  • Fluorides / therapeutic use
  • Fractures, Bone / etiology
  • Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Osteoporosis / drug therapy
  • Osteoporosis / etiology*
  • Osteoporosis / metabolism
  • Osteoporosis / therapy
  • Parathyroid Hormone / therapeutic use
  • Physical Exertion
  • Progesterone / adverse effects
  • Progesterone / therapeutic use
  • Thiazines / pharmacology
  • Vitamin D / therapeutic use


  • Androgens
  • Calcium, Dietary
  • Estrogens
  • Hormones
  • Parathyroid Hormone
  • Thiazines
  • Vitamin D
  • Progesterone
  • Fluorides