Medications for low bone density prevent fractures in women with osteoporosis

Research Activities, May 2012, No. 381

Medications to prevent loss of bone mass reduce the risk of backbone, hip, and other fractures in women with osteoporosis, according to a new review of the evidence from AHRQ's Effective Health Care Program. Comparative Effectiveness of Treatment to Prevent Fractures in Men and Women with Low Bone Density—Update updates a 2007 review by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) on the topic. The review includes new information on effectiveness and adverse events for recently approved medications, including two new bisphosphonates and the biologic agent, denosumab, to treat and prevent osteoporosis. There is not yet enough evidence to determine whether one type of medication is more effective than others at preventing fractures.

Approximately 52 million people in the United States are affected by osteoporosis or low bone density, with more than an estimated 2 million fractures in 2010 and direct medical costs of more than $18 billion. While 25 percent of those costs are attributable to men, few studies have addressed this population. While research suggests benefits for osteoporosis medications in preventing fractures, side-effect profiles vary. The review also indicated that while patient adherence to osteoporosis treatments is low overall, it is improved when medications are taken weekly instead of daily.

The report concludes that more research is needed on which patients benefit most from taking therapies to treat or prevent osteoporosis and which therapies are most effective at preventing fractures. More research is also needed on the effects of long-term use and how to improve treatment adherence.

To access this review and other materials that explore the effectiveness and risks of treatment options for various conditions, visit AHRQ's Effective Health Care Program Web site.

Page last reviewed May 2012
Internet Citation: Medications for low bone density prevent fractures in women with osteoporosis: Research Activities, May 2012, No. 381. May 2012. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.