Osteoporosis weakens bones putting those affected at risk for bone fractures, like hip breaks.
"There are more osteoporotic fractures in women than there are cases of heart attack stroke or breast cancer combined," said Dr. Timothy Gilbert, endocrinologist at The Endocrinology Center of Southwest Louisiana.
About two million bone fractions are blamed on osteoporosis every year, so that is why many Americans take prescription medications to help fight off the deterioration.
"Normal bone is in a constant state of remodeling...so what the bisphosphonates try to do is limit the breakdown," said Dr. Gilbert.
Research shows that the bisphosphonates are doing what they are designed to do, but only for a certain period of time.
"We have good data to support use of bisphosphonates out to about 5 to 8 years," explained Dr. Gilbert.
After that it gets a little murky. Dr. Gilbert said a recent study in Canada looked at 200,000 people and found a slight increased risk of a-typical femur fractures. The FDA now requires drug manufacturers to post the rare risk on labeling. Necrosis of the jaw is another possible risk, said Dr. Gilbert, but said this was very slight.
"We are preventing far more fractures than creating," continued Dr. Gilbert.
The latest trend to lower these risks: a drug holiday. He said bisphosphonates can build up over time in the bones and last for a couple years.
"We can withdraw therapy from some of these patients for 3 to five years and still see a very positive effect," said Dr. Gilbert.
The drug holiday is not recommended for everyone.
"There are also persons who are probably are at a very high fracture risk and would not benefit and probably would pose themselves at a higher risk for fractures if they stopped medicine on their own," said Dr. Gilbert.
He said good candidates for drug holidays are young, active people who have shown positive results with osteoporosis treatment. He adds a person should always ask their doctor first before deciding to stop any medication.