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Has osteoporosis been mistreated?

Written by Emily Rogan
Osteoporosis drugs strengthened the bones of millions of women. But their future may not be so bright. Here’s what we know about their long-term effects.

Since the mid-90s, when Fosamax (alendronate) was first approved, bisphosphonates have been commonly used to effectively treat osteoporosis in millions of patients. 

But bisphosphonates (the class of drugs that work to rebuild and strengthen bone tissue), which are taken either orally or as injections, are not without side effects and recently, some of the potential long-term effects of these medications, while rare, have come under scrutiny. Conversations about what those effects might or might not be and who, in fact, should be taking these drugs have been taking place in the media and medical community alike.

One issue is that no one really knows yet the optimum length of time patients should be taking these drugs. A study by the FDA, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, caused a stir — taking on the question of whether or not continued use of bisphosphonates helps patients or might put them at increased risk for atypical fractures or other side effects.

‘In other therapies we are confident in saying the effects of the medicine are gone, once we stop giving them… Whereas with bone the exact opposite is true.’ — Kurt Kennel, MD

The study suggests that taking bisphosphonates beyond 5 years doesn’t necessarily continue to improve bone density or strength for all patients. One recommendation is that patients who were initially at low-risk for osteoporosis-related fractures would probably benefit from discontinuing the medication after 3 to 5 years, whereas those patients at a greater risk from the outset would benefit from continuing.

To read the rest of this article from the Medshadow Foundation, click here.

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