Doctors suggest that women hit pause button on osteoporosis drugs

My doctor just put me on a calcium prescription when she was concerned about my bone health (I’m one of those sad people who can’t eat ice cream or drink milk, and not by choice!).  Reading this makes me glad she didn’t do anything drastic.  Finding a good doctor who will listen to you and give you the care you need, not just write a script, is hard, but worth the invested time.  Remember, you can see full profiles for primary care doctors on if you’re looking for a new family doctor.  That will help you get a feel for their personality before you go.

By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times

Many patients have taken medications that include bisphosphonates for years. Doctors are debating how long people should take them. Recent studies point to health risks and problems linked to long-term use.
With the launch of the first prescription osteoporosis medication 15 years ago, millions of Americans with the bone-thinning disease began taking the drugs and never looked back.

But now many bone-health doctors are looking back and becoming increasingly uneasy.

In the last few years, evidence has emerged that long-term use of osteoporosis drugs — particularly the oldest class of drugs, the bisphosphonates — may do more harm than good. Some doctors are starting to tell at least some of their patients to stop taking the drugs for a time — in other words, to take a “drug holiday.”

That strategy is a tough sell for consumers who have been bombarded with osteoporosis medication advertisements for years.

When osteoporosis drugs first came out, “people thought, this is a recurring disease, like high blood pressure. So why wouldn’t you treat it for the rest of their lives?” said Dr. Richard Eastell, an expert in bone metabolism at the University of Sheffield in Britain who spoke about the issue last month at the annual meeting of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research. “But there are now some anxieties with long-term use.”

Several factors are merging to usher in a new era of caution surrounding the medications. One is the simple acknowledgment that some people are approaching 10 to 15 years of continuous use.

“Worldwide, it’s a commonly discussed question as to how long you should go on with these treatments,” Eastell said. “Beyond 10 years, we have no knowledge of how these treatments work.”

Added to that, several potential risks from long-term use have recently arisen.

In rare cases, people taking bisphosphonates — which include Fosamax, Boniva, Actonel and Reclast — can develop jaw necrosis, a condition in which the jawbone begins to deteriorate. And a study published in September in the British Medical Journal found that people who take bisphosphonate drugs for several years have a slightly higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.

Experts don’t know why the drugs would increase the cancer risk, although they are known to irritate the esophagus in some people.

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