Researchers who studied more than 6,600 women taking osteoporosis drugs found that for nearly one in five, bone mineral density at the hip actually decreased after the women started taking the medication.
The hip “is an excellent site for monitoring bone mineral density because it predicts fractures, can be measured with great reliability making it easier to detect small changes, and is not affected by age-related problems like spinal arthritis,” says lead study author Dr. William Leslie, a radiology researcher at the University of Manitoba.
The findings suggest it may be time for some physicians to rethink their reluctance to get women bone mineral density tests after they start medication, Leslie says.
Whether to send women for dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) after they start therapy “has been controversial,” he adds by email. “It is relatively inexpensive, but adds to the cost of care while there has been little scientific data to answer the question of whether a change in bone mineral density while receiving treatment tells us anything about that person’s ongoing fracture risk.”
For the current study, researchers followed women for an average of 9.2 years starting when they were typically around 64 years old. Most of the women were prescribed bisphosphonates, such as Fosamax (alendronate sodium), Actonel (risedronate sodium) and Boniva (ibandronate sodium).
Overall, 910 women, or about 14%, experienced fractures during the study period, including 198 with hip fractures, researchers report in the Annals of Internal Medicine, July 18.
Bone mineral density tests of the hip showed that about 30% of the women experienced an increase in density after they started taking drugs and another 19% of these women had decreases.
Compared with women with similar hip bone mineral density before and after starting osteoporosis drugs, the fracture risk for women with a decrease in total hip bone mineral density was 2.9% higher after five years and 5.5% higher after 10 years.
In contrast, the risk of fractures was 1.3% lower at five years and 2.6% lower at 10 years for women whose bone mineral density increased during the study.
One limitation of the study is that women didn’t all wait the same amount of time between their initial bone mineral density tests and follow-up scans, the authors note.
The researchers, therefore, can’t say what the best retesting regimen would be.