Treating Osteoporosis

A number of effective medications are approved for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. These medications must be tailored to a person's specific needs and used in conjunction with recommended lifestyle changes.

Use the links below for more information on commonly available treatments:

Types of treatment

Treatments can be broadly divided into two categories: anti-resorptive (or anti-catabolic) and anabolic agents.

Anti-resorptive agents, which include oestrogen, selective estrogen receptor modulators and bisphosphonates, reduce bone resorption (and subsequently bone formation), preserving bone mineral density (BMD).

Anabolic agents, which include full-length parathyroid hormone (PTH1-84) and teriparatide (PTH1-34) stimulate bone formation (and subsequently bone resorption), thereby increasing BMD. Strontium ranelate is another agent that reduces fracture risk. It has weak effects on bone remodeling and probably improves bone strength mainly through effects on bone material properties.

How effective are treatments?

In postmenopausal women with osteoporosis, the primary outcome investigated in pharmaceutical trials is the reduction of fracture. Risk reductions of between 30-70 % have been demonstrated for vertebral fractures, around 15-20 % for non-vertebral fractures and up to 40% for hip fracture. However, of the currently approved treatments, only alendronate, risedronate, zoledronic acid and strontium ranelate have been shown to reduce vertebral, non-vertebral and hip fractures.

In men and in glucocorticoid-treated populations, regulatory approval has been obtained on the basis of bridging studies in which similar BMD changes to those seen in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis have been demonstrated.

Staying on treatment

Treatment options can only work if taken as recommended. It's common for people with osteoporosis to find taking medication challenging. As a result, up to half of all people stop their treatment after only one year. Read more information about staying on treatment.

Are there risks involved?

As with any medication, there are risks and side effects involved with osteoporosis treatments. For more information on the specific risks involved with commonly available treatments, follow the links at the top of this page. To read about known issues with osteoporosis medications visit our Special Topics section.

Other types of treatments

In addition to drug therapy, calcium and vitamin D supplements can be prescribed to ensure adequate intake and to ensure maximum effectiveness of the drug therapy.

Doctors and patients should also be aware that attention to lifestyle factors must go hand in hand with any drug treatment prescribed.

Practical Support

Practical and emotional support is important for a person on osteoporsis treatment. This can be provided by health professionals, osteoporosis patient support groups, family and friends. Such support is of great assistance in helping people manage their osteoporosis, and in lessening the feelings of isolation and depression experienced by many patients with severe osteoporosis.

Find a local osteoporosis society