Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Deciding About Bisphosphonate Medicine for Osteoporosis
Facebook Tweet Email Share

Main Content

Deciding About Bisphosphonate Medicine for Osteoporosis

How can you decide about taking bisphosphonate medicine for osteoporosis?

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease that affects your bones. It means you have bones that are thin and brittle and have lots of holes inside them like a sponge. This makes them easy to break. It also increases your risk for spine, wrist and hip fractures. These fractures may make it hard for you to live on your own.

Bisphosphonates are the most common medicines used to prevent bone loss. Most of the time, you take them as pills. They slow the way bone dissolves and is absorbed by your body. They can increase bone thickness and strength.

What are key points about this decision?

  • If you have osteoporosis, these medicines can increase bone thickness. And they can lower your risk of spine, wrist and hip fractures. You may also want to think about taking them if you have low bone density or risk factors for osteoporosis.
  • These medicines can have side effects, such as heartburn, belly pain and headaches. There have been rare reports of unusual fractures of the thigh bone and a jaw problem that can cause slow healing after you have a tooth pulled.
  • Whether you take medicine or not, healthy habits can also help protect your bones. Talk to your doctor about taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. Get regular weight-bearing exercise. Cut back on alcohol. And if you smoke, quit.

Why might you choose to take bisphosphonate medicines?

  • You have bone loss that is not normal for your age.
  • You have osteoporosis or low bone density. Or you have risk factors for osteoporosis.
  • You have been taking hormone therapy (HT) and stopped. Bone loss medicines can protect against rapid bone loss after you quit HT.
  • You think the benefits of taking these medicines outweigh the side effects.

Why might you choose not to take these medicines?

  • You want to try other medicines that help prevent bone loss. These include denosumab (Prolia or Xgeva), hormone therapy, raloxifene (Evista), and teriparatide (Forteo).
  • You want to try healthy habits to prevent bone fractures.
  • You are worried about the side effects of these medicines.

Your decision

Thinking about the facts and your feelings can help you make a decision that is right for you. Be sure you understand the benefits and risks of your options, and think about what else you need to do before you make the decision.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter W372 in the search box to learn more about "Deciding About Bisphosphonate Medicine for Osteoporosis".