Study confirms that a class of osteoporosis medications confers small risk of atypical fracture

A number of studies have suggested that taking bisphosphonates, a common class of osteoporosis medications, entails a small risk of atypical fracture, and a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine supports this hypothesis.

Data collected from more than 12,700 Swedish women indicated that those who were taking bisphosphonates for osteoporosis were more likely to suffer a specific kind of break, called an atypical fracture.

This injury, also known as a fatigue fracture, results less often from a fall or sudden impact than from the pressure of the body's weight. Researchers from Linkoping University noted that of 59 women who were diagnosed with this injury, 78 percent had been taking bisphosphonates.

By comparison, the rate of bisphosphonate use among women of all fracture classes was 5 percent.

Bisphosphonates serve to reverse osteoporosis-related bone loss by inhibiting the action of specialized cells, called osteoclasts, that break down skeletal minerals. With the mechanism of these cells suspended, their sister cells, known as osteoblasts, can build bone tissue without it being immediately dismantled.

However, reports of unusual fractures of the femur among aging patients taking bisphosphonates have circulated for several years now. The new study appears to confirm this effect, since individuals age 55 or older who took the medication comprised the majority of patients with atypical fractures.

Be that as it may, co-author Per Aspenberg put the results into perspective. "Even if a negative connection has been established, this relates to a very small group and minimal overall risk," he stated. "Bisphosphonates prevent many more fractures than they cause. All forms of medication retain side effects and one needs to be aware of that."

While bisphosphonates may build bone that is structurally compromised, most healthcare experts agree that more bone tissue is better than less for people with osteoporosis.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that half of all women and nearly one in four men over age 50 will suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture at some point.