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Given the current news about the risks associated with Merck and Co.'s osteoporosis drug Fosamax, many women have just one question for the drug manufacturer and for their physicians. Do the benefits of taking Fosamax outweigh the potential Fosamax risks? For elderly women with bone fractures, the answer to that question may be yes.
The Benefits of Fosamax
Fosamax is used to treat osteoporosis, a condition in which a person's bones lose density and thin out becoming more brittle. People with osteoporosis often break or fracture bones at a significantly higher rate than the rest of the population. Osteoporosis is a very common condition, particularly among elderly women. More than half of the female population in the United States has osteoporosis by the time they are 50 years old and that number skyrockets to over 90 percent of the female population who are aged 70 or above. Elderly women who have weak and brittle bones are more apt to break a bone, such as a hip, which can be debilitating and even fatal among the elderly.
Fosamax works to treat osteoporosis and to help prevent the risks that come with weak and brittle bones. Fosamax actually helps patients reverse bone loss. It is a bisphosphonate drug that works by reducing activity in the cells that contribute to bone loss, decreasing the faster rate of bone loss after menopause or use of certain steroids and, increasing the amount of bone. This can lead to a decrease in the amount of hip and spinal fractures among elderly patients taking this drug and in that way can lengthen a patient's life and improve her quality of life.
Like all drugs, Fosamax is not with risks of side effects. In all cases the risk of a potential Fosamax injury must be weighed against the potential benefits in treating osteoporosis. The risks that most patients and physicians are concerned with include the risk of damage to the esophagus, including esophageal cancer, and the risk of osteonecrosis or jaw bone death. These risks, while very serious, only seem to affect a small percentage of patients. Therefore, if an elderly woman's osteoporosis is severe she may be at greater risk from a fall, break or fracture than she is from the side effects of Fosamax and she may be a good candidate to take this drug treatment.
Despite the potential for a Fosamax injury, the reality is that for many patients, particularly elderly women, the benefits of preventing complications from osteoporosis outweigh the potential risks. Yet, the negative attention that Fosamax is receiving in the media as a result of the recent FDA letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the study published by the American Dental Association may prevent some elderly women who could truly benefit from the drug from receiving it. The women may have heard the news and may now be afraid to take the drug. Doctors may have heard the news and may now be afraid to prescribe the drug. However, Fosamax provides some very real benefits, particularly to elderly women who already have suffered a fracture due to osteoporosis and the benefits and risks of the drug should be weighed by a qualified physician for each individual patient.