Bisphosphonate use for prevention has declined in recent years – and that’s a victory! But we’re concerned that a recent article in the Wall Street Journal with the misleading title “More Support for Osteoporosis Drugs: The benefits of bisphosphonates outweigh the risks for many patients” (original article here) encourages the overuse of drugs that have not proven safe or effective as a preventive measure for women.
The National Women’s Health Network has worked for decades to improve the health and well-being of older women’s quality of life. For years, women’s fractures were largely overlooked or dismissed by the medical community. Fortunately, NWHN and our allies advocated for change, and as a direct result, women’s fractures are better understood and taken more seriously than they were before. In an ironic and unfortunate change of events, we are now working to prevent the overdiagnosis of low bone density (osteopenia) and the overprescription of bisphosphonates to “treat” this disease.
If more drugs and more diagnoses aren’t the answer, what is? We need better labeling and stronger prescribing policies. We know that when women take bisphosphonates as a preventive measure, they are more likely to experience unprovoked fractures in the thigh bone. Increasing the risk of one type of fracture in an attempt to prevent other types of fractures just doesn’t make sense. The NWHN supports the continued development of safe and effective osteoporosis drugs, and encourages women to try behavioral changes like diet, strength training, and balance exercises to help prevent falls and fractures.
Used by the right women, in the right way, these drugs do offer advantages to women who might otherwise suffer a fracture as a result of osteoporosis. NWHN supports the use of bisphosphonates in women who may benefit from their use. Encouraging women to use bisphosphonates before an osteoporosis diagnosis; however, is bad medicine and bad precedent.
NWHN and other women’s health organizations have worked hard to combat the misleading and downright dangerous claims surrounding bisphosphonate use. Let’s not turn back time on the progress we’ve made. Let’s work together to ensure bisphosphonates as a prevention tool remain a remnant of the past.