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New Drugs Being Developed To Battle Osteoporosis

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RALEIGH, N.C. — About 36 million people in the United States, mostly women, have or are at risk for osteoporosis. Left untreated, it can be debilitating, painful, and even deadly, but some new, powerful drugs are being developed for treating this bone-thinning disease.

Osteoporosis is a painful crippler and can lead to fatal fractures. Women are most at risk during and after menopause as the decline in estrogen speeds up bone loss. It is important to know if you carry any of the risk factors for osteoporosis.

"If you have them, fracture in the family, personal history of fractures, you're thin, under 125 pounds, or you're a smoker, get the bone density test," said researcher Dr. Ethel Siris.

During a bone density test, doctors take X-rays of the forearm, spine, and hip. Kan Gorman, 55, is going through menopause and has already had two foot fractures.

"I fractured my bone twice in the same place," she said.

Fortunately, Gorman's scan showed no sign of osteoporosis. Before 1995, there was essentially only one treatment, taking estrogen. Now, there are two new types of drugs for osteoporosis.

One group, Selective Estrogen Receptive Modulators (SERMs), protects bone from erosion while also reducing the risk of breast cancer that is associated with estrogen. The second group of drugs is called bisphosphonates. They reduce the risk of fracture from osteoporosis by as much as 50 percent.

Researchers are working on bone-stimulating drugs called parathyroid hormone, which will be taken as a daily injection. Experts claim the treatments work, but only if women take the first step and get a bone density test.

"Find out if you're at risk, and if you're at risk, don't panic. Deal with it," Siris said. "It doesn't mean you're going to crumble tomorrow because you have a low score, but we have things we can do."

For men, osteoporosis risk increases among men who have been treated for prostate cancer, drink too excessively or have low testosterone levels.

Preventing osteoporosis in women and men includes getting enough calcium, vitamin D and exercise.


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