Bisphosphonates is a classification of drugs which includes Fosamax, Actonel, Aredia, Bonefos, Boniva, Didronel, Reclast, Skelid and Zometa. This medication works to prevent bones from losing calcium. It is prescribed to slow the progression of osteoporosis—and has also been given to cancer patients and patients with Paget’s disease to promote bone health.

Some Bisphosphonates are taken orally, while others are administered intravenously.

This class of drugs has been linked to serious side effects that could be life-threatening. Uncharacteristic femur fractures and osteonecrosis (jaw death) are some of the side effects that go along with bisphosphonates.

Evidence has shown that the use of bisphosphonates has caused femur fractures in patients, especially women, who have taken the drug for an extended period of time. Although these fractures accounted for less than one percent of all hip and femur fractures in the US, the FDA became concerned and required the manufacturer to place a warning on bisphosphonate prescriptions. This change was ordered after a study found that out of 300 women who had sustained fractures, 94 percent of them had taken a bisphosphonate and been on the drug for more than five years.

Bisphosphonates have also been linked to osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ), also known as “dead jaw.” This occurs when bone fails after a tooth extraction of minor trauma. People who have ONJ require long-term antibiotic treatment and in some cases, surgery to extract the dying bone. By 2005, the FDA had found 1,600 bisphosphonate ONJ cases.

Oral Bisphosphonates have also been linked to esophageal cancer. This event has occurred mostly in people who did not follow specific instructions when taking the drugs. In 2011, the FDA acknowledged that there was a potential link between taking the drug and getting esophagitis or esophageal cancer.

Side Effects Include:

  • Heartburn
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Chest pain
  • Bone, joint or muscle pain
  • Mental or mood changes
  • Stomach pain
  • Fever or sore throat
  • Stomach upset or diarrhea

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