Context: Osteoporosis is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Oral bisphosphonates have become a mainstay of treatment, but concerns have emerged that long-term use of these drugs may suppress bone remodeling, leading to unusual fractures.
Objective: To determine whether prolonged bisphosphonate therapy is associated with an increased risk of subtrochanteric or femoral shaft fracture.
Design, setting, and patients: A population-based, nested case-control study to explore the association between bisphosphonate use and fractures in a cohort of women aged 68 years or older from Ontario, Canada, who initiated therapy with an oral bisphosphonate between April 1, 2002, and March 31, 2008. Cases were those hospitalized with a subtrochanteric or femoral shaft fracture and were matched to up to 5 controls with no such fracture. Study participants were followed up until March 31, 2009.
Main outcome measures: The primary analysis examined the association between hospitalization for a subtrochanteric or femoral shaft fracture and duration of bisphosphonate exposure. To test the specificity of the findings, the association between bisphosphonate use and fractures of the femoral neck or intertrochanteric region, which are characteristic of osteoporotic fractures, was also examined.
Results: We identified 716 women who sustained a subtrochanteric or femoral shaft fracture following initiation of bisphosphonate therapy and 9723 women who sustained a typical osteoporotic fracture of the intertrochanteric region or femoral neck. Compared with transient bisphosphonate use, treatment for 5 years or longer was associated with an increased risk of subtrochanteric or femoral shaft fracture (adjusted odds ratio, 2.74; 95% confidence interval, 1.25-6.02). A reduced risk of typical osteoporotic fractures occurred among women with more than 5 years of bisphosphonate therapy (adjusted odds ratio, 0.76; 95% confidence interval, 0.63-0.93). Among 52,595 women with at least 5 years of bisphosphonate therapy, a subtrochanteric or femoral shaft fracture occurred in 71 (0.13%) during the subsequent year and 117 (0.22%) within 2 years.
Conclusion: Among older women, treatment with a bisphosphonate for more than 5 years was associated with an increased risk of subtrochanteric or femoral shaft fractures; however, the absolute risk of these fractures is low.