European Spine Journal

, Volume 15, Issue 7, pp 1035–1049

Glucocorticosteroid-induced spinal osteoporosis: scientific update on pathophysiology and treatment


  • Albrecht W. Popp
    • Osteoporosis PoliclinicUniversity Hospital of Berne
  • Juerg Isenegger
    • Department of Internal MedicineUniversity Hospital of Berne
  • Elizabeth M. Buergi
    • Department of Internal MedicineUniversity Hospital of Berne
  • Ulrich Buergi
    • Department of Internal MedicineUniversity Hospital of Berne
    • Osteoporosis PoliclinicUniversity Hospital of Berne

DOI: 10.1007/s00586-005-0056-x

Cite this article as:
Popp, A.W., Isenegger, J., Buergi, E.M. et al. Eur Spine J (2006) 15: 1035. doi:10.1007/s00586-005-0056-x


Glucocorticosteroid-induced osteoporosis (GIOP) is the most frequent of all secondary types of osteoporosis. The understanding of the pathophysiology of glucocorticoid (GC) induced bone loss is of crucial importance for appropriate treatment and prevention of debilitating fractures that occur predominantly in the spine. GIOP results from depressed bone formation due to lower activity and higher death rate of osteoblasts on the one hand, and from increased bone resorption due to prolonged lifespan of osteoclasts on the other. In addition, calcium/phosphate metabolism may be disturbed through GC effects on gut, kidney, parathyroid glands and gonads. Therefore, therapeutic agents aim at restoring balanced bone cell activity by directly decreasing apoptosis rate of osteoblasts (e.g., cyclical parathyroid hormone) or by increasing apoptosis rate of osteoclasts (e.g., bisphosphonates). Other therapeutical efforts aim at maintaining/restoring calcium/phosphate homeostasis: improving intestinal calcium absorption (using calcium supplementation, vitamin D and derivates) and avoiding increased urinary calcium loss (using thiazides) prevent or counteract a secondary hyperparathyroidism. Bisphosphonates, particularly the aminobisphosphonates risedronate and alendronate, have been shown to protect patients on GCs from (further) bone loss and to reduce vertebral fracture risk. Calcitonin may be of interest in situations where bisphosphonates are contraindicated or not applicable and in cases where acute pain due to vertebral fracture has to be managed. The intermittent administration of 1-34-parathormone may be an appealing treatment alternative, based on its documented anabolic effects on bone resulting from the reduction of osteoblastic apoptosis. Calcium and vitamin D should be a systematic adjunctive measure to any drug treatment for GIOP. Based on currently available evidence, fluoride, androgens, estrogens (opposed or unopposed) cannot be recommended for the prevention and treatment of GIOP. However, substitution of gonadal hormones may be indicated if GC-induced hypogonadism is present and leads to clinical symptoms. Data using the SERM raloxifene to treat or prevent GIOP are lacking, as are data using the promising bone anabolic agent strontium ranelate. Kyphoplasty performed in appropriately selected osteoporotic patients with painful vertebral fractures is a promising addition to current medical treatment.


Glucocorticosteroids Osteoporosis Pathophysiology Bisphosphonates Parathormone

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© Springer-Verlag 2006