New drugs for osteoporosis
Steven Brown, MD, is a physician and program director of the Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix Family Medicine Residency.
Question: I’ve been hearing about new drugs that can help treat osteoporosis – some are taken weekly, monthly or even annually. How do I know which one is best for me?
Answer: First, I think it is important to mention that osteoporosis is sometimes over-emphasized as the primary concern for bone problems. As physicians, our true goal is to reduce the risk of fractures for a patient, and osteoporosis is one of several factors that can contribute to that risk. Hip fractures and other types of fractures are often life-altering, so we focus on lowering the incidence of these fractures through treatment and lifestyle recommendations.
Numerous issues are evaluated when determining fracture risk, including medications, overall physical health, poor balance and vision, osteoporosis and other conditions that might cause a fall and ultimately, a fracture. Note that fractures generally affect older populations; in fact, 85 percent of hip fractures occur after age 70, so this audience is given particular attention when trying to lower fracture risk.
As for the osteoporosis medications that are advertised frequently, a weekly dose of a drug called Alendronate (previously marketed as Fosamax) has been proven to reduce fractures in women diagnosed with osteoporosis, and serves as an effective and reasonably-priced treatment. The monthly or yearly osteoporosis medications are typically prescribed when a patient has trouble tolerating Alendronate. Other lifestyle changes can be very helpful in reducing fracture risk in people over age 65, such as participating in regular weight-bearing exercise, quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and taking 800 units of vitamin D daily.