Glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis: prevention and treatment

Steroids. May-Jun 1998;63(5-6):344-8. doi: 10.1016/s0039-128x(98)00022-1.


Glucocorticoid excess carries the risk of inducing secondary osteoporosis. In endogenous Cushing's syndrome, osteoporosis may be the presenting symptom of the underlying disease. Bone loss may reverse after the condition is cured, but often active treatment of established osteoporosis is necessary. In long-term glucocorticoid treatment at therapeutic doses, bone loss is likely and should be prevented; if prevention is ineffective, treatment is necessary. Hypercortisolism impairs calcium homeostasis and bone metabolism in a complex, multifactorial way: Glucocorticoids diminish calcium absorption and increase renal calcium excretion; this negative calcium balance leads to secondary hyperparathyroidism and osteoclast activation. Osteoblast activity is directly impaired by glucocorticoids, which lower activity of the gonadal hormone axis so that hypogonadism also contributes to bone loss. Glucocorticoids lead to muscle atrophy and decreased muscle strength with negative consequences for bone formation. For prevention and treatment, two different strategies have been used. The pathophysiological approach substitutes calcium and vitamin D in the first step; if bone loss nevertheless continues, bone formation is stimulated by fluorides. The alternative pharmaco-dynamic approach uses antiresorptives-calcitonin or, for preference, bisphosphonates. Clinically it is mandatory to monitor all patients in whom glucocorticoids are used (e.g., organ transplant recipients) before and after the initiation of treatment to stabilize bone metabolism as early as possible.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bone Resorption / prevention & control
  • Glucocorticoids / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Osteoporosis / chemically induced*
  • Osteoporosis / prevention & control
  • Osteoporosis / therapy


  • Glucocorticoids