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Osteoporosis Health Center

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New Drugs Fuel Rise in Osteoporosis Treatment

More People Treated for Osteoporosis, but Millions More Still at Risk

WebMD Health News

July 26, 2004 -- The number of doctor visits for osteoporosis has more than quadrupled in the last decade, thanks to increased awareness and new treatments for the disease, say researchers.

But despite these advances, a new report shows that less than half of those with the bone-weakening disease are aware of their condition.

The study shows that the number of physician office visits for osteoporosis increased dramatically from 1.3 million in 1994 to 6.3 million in 2003 after years of remaining stable. At the same time, the number of people diagnosed with the disease increased from half a million in 1994 to 3.4 million in 2003.

Researchers say the increases are likely due to a greater awareness of the disease along with the introduction of new drugs, such as bisphosphonates (including Actonel and Fosamax) and Evista, which slow down the loss of bone associated with osteoporosis.

In addition, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in 2002 recommended widespread screening for osteoporosis for all women over age 65.

Osteoporosis Treatment Rising

For the study, published in the July 26 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers looked at trends in osteoporosis-related office visits as well as physician prescribing practices from 1988 to 2003.

Researchers found little change in the number of physician office visits for osteoporosis between 1988 and 1994. But after 1994, the number of visits increased by more than 300%. The largest increases in osteoporosis-related office visits were in 1996 and 1998, which coincides with when Fosamax and Evista were introduced, respectively.

The study shows that the treatment of osteoporosis has also changed as new drugs became available. Prior to 1994, the most popular drugs prescribed for osteoporosis were calcium and estrogens.

But between 1994 and 2003, the percentage of visits during which a bisphosphonate or Evista was prescribed increased from 14% to 73% and from 0% to 12%, respectively.

Researchers say they are concerned that as prescriptions for new osteoporosis drugs have increased, the use of calcium has decreased. Calcium supplements were used in treating 43% of osteoporosis patients in 1994, but only 24% last year.

"Physicians and patients may be so enamored of the new drugs that they are neglecting this important component of osteoporosis treatment," says researcher Randall Stafford, MD, of Stanford University, in a news release. "This would be a mistake because newer osteoporosis medications were tested on people taking extra calcium and may not work as well without it."

In addition, researchers say that while 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, 34 million are at risk for developing the disease and greater attention should to be devoted to preventing osteoporosis with tools such as calcium supplementation and physical activity.

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