Osteoporosis Medicine Risks Should be Weighed with Benefits

Osteoporosis Risk Index

Even though osteoporosis medicine risks have been identified, each patient should evaluate the need because there are surely benefits.  According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, osteoporosis affects ten million people in the United States in addition to the 18 million who are at risk of being victimized by the disease. Knowing the available options to prevent and treat the disease in seniors is important.

One common treatment is medication. Typically, medications containing bisphosphonates are frequently used. This treatment slows the process of dissolving bone tissue as aging advances. Lately, controversy has arisen regarding this medication and the length of time it can be taken safely. Some say it is too risky to take beyond three to five years. Often, patients are advised to take the medications for life to prevent fractures and related complications.

Risks of Osteoporosis

Bones renew themselves, just as skin does, but as the body ages, this process slows down. Eventually, bones break down faster than new bone cells can generate. This leads to the symptoms of osteoporosis. The risk of acquiring this disease differs from person to person, but the highest risk factors include:

  • Gender – Females are at higher risk than males
  • Age – Older age brings higher risk
  • Race – Asians and Caucasians have the highest risk
  • Size – People with smaller frames have a higher risk
  • Medical history – Personal and family medical history of osteoporosis plays a key role

All of these factors need to be considered when evaluating osteoporosis medicine risks.

Treating Osteoporosis

The most common medications for osteoporosis are Fosamax and Boniva, which help reduce the risk of fracture and decrease the risk of sudden death. They also help decrease healthcare costs because of fewer doctor visits due to the decreased risk of bone fractures. Studies show that taking bisphosphonates for at least three years decreases mortality by up to 28 percent in patients that experienced a low-trauma hip fracture. Older seniors who took bisphosphonates for five years had a 27 percent lower risk of sudden death because of a fracture.

The Risks of Treatment

The most widely known risks of bisphosphonates are believed to be renal failure, but studies show that these warnings may not be accurate. This risk factor of renal failure may come from other conditions, such as:

  • Other medical issues that compound the effects of the osteoporosis medications
  • Pre-existing kidney issues
  • Advanced age

Of the millions of people who now take osteoporosis medication, a very small percentage are adversely affected. There is no concrete evidence that the medication caused the pertinent issues. To reduce the possibility of an adverse reaction to the medications, it is important to consult a doctor for a full evaluation. Instead of just taking the medication because of decreasing bone mass consider taking time to explore other medical issues that may be viable to help determine safe intake of osteoporosis medication.

Taking a Break Can Reduce Osteoporosis Medicine Risks

In some cases, doctors may recommend pausing the osteoporosis medication in selected cases. Normally, a “holiday” from the medication is usually prescribed to patients who meet the following criteria:

  • Low or non-existent risk for future fracture
  • Bone mineral density higher than the osteoporosis range
  • No history of bone fractures

If any of these criteria are not present, most doctors recommend continuation of the medication, concluding that the benefits outweigh the osteoporosis medicine risks. The usual cases where the medication may not be warranted is if other medical conditions present complications. This includes putting the person’s health or organs at risk, especially the kidneys.

Anyone concerned with the side effects of long-term use of osteoporosis medication should consult a doctor. Having a full medical evaluation and weighing the benefits and risks help determine the best course.  Even though osteoporosis medicine risks are well documented, preventing fractures that could reduce a person’s ability to enjoy the golden years warrants special attention and is an important goal to seek.

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American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Osteoporosis/Bone Health in Adults as a National Public Health Priority. Position Statement. Available at http://www.aaos.org/CustomTemplates/Content.aspx?id=5604&ssopc=1. Accessed on July 18, 2016.

McClung, M., Harris, S. T., Miller, P. D., Bauer, D. C., Davison, S., Dian, L., et al. (January 2013). Bisphosphonate Therapy for Osteoporosis: Benefits,Risks, and Drug Holiday. American Journal of Medicine 126(1): 13-20.  Available at http://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/44869700/Bisphosphonate_Therapy_for_Osteoporosis_20160418-7364-u4lkgb.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAJ56TQJRTWSMTNPEA&Expires=1468850375&Signature=yOASoeIMQE56O%2FgEMTUYs%2B9CiRM%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DBisphosphonate_Therapy_for_Osteoporosis.pdf. Accessed on July 18, 2016.

National Bone Health Alliance. Benefits of Osteoporosis Drugs Outweigh a Risk, Study Says. Available at http://www.nbha.org/news/113. Accessed on July 18, 2016.

Schilcher, J., Michaelsson, K., Aspenberg, P. (May 5, 2011). Bisphosphonate Use and Atypical Fractures of the Femoral Shaft. New England Journal of Medicine, 364: 1728-1737. Available at http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1010650#t=articleResults. Accessed on July 21, 2016.