Why should you test your bone health?
If you’re a healthy 50 years old woman, your risk of dying from a complication of osteoporosis or thinning of the bones is just as great as your risk of dying from breast cancer.
That’s why if you are a 50 year old woman, or even younger if you’ve broken a bone in the past, you should have a bone density exam to test the strength of your bones. They are safe, and they can give you a strong clue about your bone health.
Women who have thinning bones (osteopenia) or who already have osteoporosis (bones so thin they are at increased risk of breaking if you fall) are often recommended to begin a class of medications called bisphosphonates. They are a real breakthrough in bone health medication and they have been around for around over 40 years so there is a lot of information about them. And more women have gone on them since the WHI incorrectly reported that estrogen could cause problems and millions of women stopped taking them or never began them. That caused an increase in the risk of osteoporosis.
How long should you stay on medication to lower your risk of breaking your hip?
A recent study reported in the journal JAMA investigated if staying on the medication bisphosphonate for 10 years was the better than taking it for 5 years. There are already studies that show staying on the medication for up to 5 years is beneficial.
The study was performed by Kaiser Permanente Northern and Southern California. The outcome was measured by measuring the number of women who had a hip fracture.
The findings showed that women with a history on one bone fracture and who took the medication were more at risk for a second bone fracture, even if they took the medication, than women who never broken a bone. They also found that taking the medication for 10 years was no more protective than taking it for 5 years. However, a group who took the medication for 5 years and continued if for two years longer had less bone fractures than women who continued on the medication for 10 years.
Bottom line: If you are on a bisphosphonate to prevent hip fracture or other broken bones, after 5 years, talk with your doctor about coming off of the medication, at least for a window of time. Sometimes, more isn’t better.