Osteoporosis is a major health problem affecting 10 million Americans, and every year osteoporosis causes more than 1.5 million fractures including 300,000 broken hips, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF).
Now consider this eyebrow-raising NOF statistic:
One in two women will break a bone in their lifetime due to osteoporosis, making the odds greater than that of heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined.
"Osteoporosis is not to be trifled with," says Dr. Elizabeth Hays, who works at the clinic's Westside office. "A broken bone of the hip or spine can cause several months of debilitating pain and can lead to a permanent decline in strength and activity as well as incurring the side effects and risks of pain medication."
This explains why Hays strongly supports the use of osteoporosis drugs for women who have the disease or are at high-risk of developing it.
There are two categories of osteoporosis medications: antiresorptive medications that slow bone loss and anabolic drugs that increase the rate of bone formation. UpToDate, a medical information website with peer-reviewed articles says in its article on the use of bisphosphonates in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis, "We prefer oral bisphosphonates as initial therapy because of their efficacy, favorable cost, and the availability of long-term safety data."
And yet many patients either opt not to take them or stop taking them within a year's time, as the NY Times reports in "Fearing Drugs’ Rare Side Effects, Millions Take Their Chances With Osteoporosis,":
The [osteoporosis] drugs, meant to be started when bone density falls very low and the chance of a fracture soars, can reduce that risk by half, studies show. But to many, it matters little that the drugs’ frightening side effects are extremely rare. Estimates are that 10 to 40 in 100,000 osteoporosis patients taking the drugs — including alendronate, ibandronate, risedronate and zoledronate — have sustained broken thighbones. Fewer than one in 100,000 have had the jawbone problem.
"Many more women with a high risk of osteoporosis will benefit from osteoporosis drugs than not," says Hays, "despite the dramatic, devastating--and rare--side effects that have been documented."
Her advice to her patients is to use drug therapy. "As with any drug, it may not work for all people, because everyone responds differently," Hays says. "And yet, for most women, we can prevent osteoporosis fractures with a single five-year course of drug treatment, then stop. This shorter period of treatment reduces the risk of the more serious side effects."
All said, treating osteoporosis is complex, Hays says. "Talk to your clinician about your questions and concerns," she says. "With my patients, my hope is that we can prevent the worst case: a broken bone and a potentially long, painful recovery."
I respect my patient's role as the expert in their own bodies and preferences, and I believe that my job is to bring clinical expertise to the decisions my patients make to improve their health.