Glucocorticoids are potent osteopenic agents, producing negative calcium and bone balance via actions at many sites. The most significant adverse effects of glucocorticoid drugs on the skeleton are probably a direct inhibition of matrix synthesis by the osteoblast, reductions in calcium absorption in both the gut and the renal tubule, and the production of hypogonadism, particularly in men. Reductions in bone density of 10-40% result, the loss being more marked in trabecular bone and in patients receiving a high cumulative dose of the steroid. Fractures occur in about 30% of individuals who take these drugs for an average of 5 years. Bone loss is reversible when glucocorticoid treatment is withdrawn. Bone density can also be increased by sex hormone replacement in those with demonstrable deficiency, by bisphosphonates, and possibly by vitamin D metabolites. All patients treated with glucocorticoids for more than 6 months should be considered for bone densitometry and be offered appropriate drug treatment if values are towards the lower end of the young normal range or if there is already evidence of fractures occurring after minimal trauma. With this approach, the significant morbidity associated with steroid osteoporosis might be substantially avoided.