Recent reports have linked Fosamax, a popular osteoporosis drug, to serious medical conditions like cancer and bone death (osteonecrosis). However, this is not the first time Fosamax has been questioned. In April of 2008, Fosamax was linked to serious heart problems, and lingering questions about the validity of this claim are still causing some doctors and their patients to stay away from this drug. Could using Fosamax affect your heart? Do the Fosamax risks outweigh the benefits?
When the original study was released, it exclusively concerned female patients and a condition known as atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is a chronic disorder in which the heart beat irregularly. This condition isn't life threatening in most cases, but it can cause fatigue, dizziness, and fainting, all of which can be dangerous to women, especially when driving. The study initially reported that women who had taken Fosamax had an 86% increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation than women who had never taken the drug. Those stats immediately caused many women to question their doctors as to whether or not they should continue using Fosamax to treat their osteoporosis.
Upon closer inspection, though, this statistic is misleading. Earlier, a study looked at a group of about 6500 women who took Reclast, a drug related to Fosamax, or a placebo. The results were inconclusive, though there was a definite link between the drug and heart abnormalities. Later, a study reported in the Archives of Internal Medical and involving 1700 women found that 6.5% of women with atrial fibrillation were taking Fosamax, as compared to a small number of women with atrial fibrillation who were not taking Fosamax. This is where the 86% increased risk statistic comes from.
However, in 97% of all cases, Fosamax was ruled out as the cause of the atrial fibrillation. So, just 3% of the initial 6.5% - or, to put it into perspective 0.2% of the patients in the study actually had heartbeat problems due to Fosamax. In other words, the results were highly inconclusive in this case as well. Ethel Siris, the president of the National Osteoporosis Foundation went on record as saying that more data was needed before anyone should consider not using the drug, and even the lead author of the study, Susan Heckbert of the University of Washington, encouraged high-risk women to continue using Fosamax.
The researchers of the Fosamax study had no funding or other interaction from Merck & Co., the company manufacturing Fosamax, but Merck later did their own small trial, which showed that the link was unlikely. Later reports also cleared the drug, showing that the link between Fosamax and heart problems is highly unlikely. Today, however, Merck has bigger concerns regarding Fosamax. New reports suggest that Fosamax could be responsible for osteonecrosis, a condition that causes the bone to die and mainly affects the jaw. Other reports link Fosamax to esophageal tumors, a dangerous form of cancer that has claimed a number of lives. Fosamax lawsuits have been popping up all over the country as more and more patients come forward with reported health problems.
More studies need to be done to validate the concerns regarding this drug. If you have experienced problems, talk to a lawyer to learn about your rights. However, if you've been successfully taking this drug, it may be in your best interest to continue taking it. As with the atrial fibrillation concerns in 2008, future studies may show that links between this drug and other problems are unlikely, but we do know for certain that it can help osteoporosis patients live a healthier life.