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Study: Osteoporosis Drug's Effects Continue After Use Stops

Posted December 26, 2006

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— Millions of women take an osteoporosis drug called Alendronate, but doctors were not sure how many years women could safely take the drug or how effective it would be in the long run. A new study has the answers.

Four years ago, Judy Sheridan showed the first signs of osteoporosis. She started taking Alendronate to strengthen her bones.

"It is helping me because I've had a follow-up test a couple years after I started and my bone strength had improved," she said.

Sheridan said she even survived a fall down a flight of stairs with just a bruise, not a fracture. But how many years is the drug safe and effective to use? The answer is in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"The drug was safe to use for as long as 10 years. We didn't see any negative effects of long-term use," said Dennis Black, of the University of California.

A nationwide team of researchers tracked about 1,000 elderly women who had taken Alendronate for about five years.
Some continued using the drug for five more years while others took a sugar pill.

After five years, bone tests showed the sugar pill group did lose a little bone mass, compared to women on Alendronate, but the bone fracture rates were similar.

"Suggesting that for many women, they may be able to discontinue Alendronate after five years and still maintain a five-year additional fracture benefit," Black said.

Women who have had fractures already are at high risk for another fracture, and they should probably stop taking Alendronate. However, Sheridan is not in that group. She likes the idea that drug's benefit continues even after she quits taking it.

"I personally would just as soon not take medication if I didn't have to," Sheridan said.

The pharmaceutical company MERCK provided funding for the study. Health experts said you should talk to your physician about your bone strength.
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