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Planning Retirement Online

Drugs may make osteoporosis worse

March 2017

man with arm in sling

News released late this week indicates that drugs used  long term to treat weak bones, especially in older people suffering from osteoporosis, may in some patients cause the bones to weaken instead.

Dr Richard Abel has and a team of scientists at Imperial College, London, have been researching a project looking at bone health.

The study was undertaken in part because doctors had been raising concerns about the number of fractures that were occurring in older patients who had been taking bisphosphonates for a long time. 

Bisphosphonates is a recognised main treatment for osteoporosis.
However the new study suggests that for a small number of patients, rather than protecting against fractures, bisphosphonates can actually make bones more fragile.

The patients in the study had all suffered a broken hip, and half of the patients had been put on bisphosphonates.

The team involved the synchrotron at the Diamond Light Source for the research, this is the UK’s national particle accelerator at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.

By analysing the findings, the team found that the bones of people taking the drugs long term not only had less mechanical strength, but also had a larger number of tiny cracks which have the potential to make a bone more likely to crack.

Dr Abel said:  "Although this is a very small, early-stage study, the results are quite startling, and justify follow-up studies.” The team say there is now an urgent need to investigate this further.

Osteoporosis affects over three million people in the UK, usually among the over 65s.  At the moment there are thought to be over 5 million prescriptions for bisphosphonates every year, and it has been found to help prevent the risk of fracture.

Because of this, the research team say no urgent action should be taken and people already on bisphosponates should continue taking their drugs. However, the results have raised important questions about the long term use of bisphosponates and further research will now take place.
More information is available here.

Also the National Osteoporosis Society has a wealth of information and advice. This is the UK’s only nationwide charity dedicated to ending the pain and suffering caused by osteoporosis. 


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