Efficacy, effectiveness and side effects of medications used to prevent fractures

J Intern Med. 2015 Jun;277(6):690-706. doi: 10.1111/joim.12339.


There is an increasing number of effective therapies for fracture prevention in adults at risk of osteoporosis. However, shortcomings in the evidence underpinning our management of osteoporosis still exist. Evidence of antifracture efficacy in the groups of patients who most commonly use calcium and vitamin D supplements is lacking, the safety of calcium supplements is in doubt, and the safety and efficacy of high doses of vitamin D give cause for concern. Alendronate, risedronate, zoledronate and denosumab have been shown to prevent spine, nonspine and hip fractures; in addition, teriparatide and strontium ranelate prevent both spine and nonspine fractures, and raloxifene and ibandronate prevent spine fractures. However, most trials provide little information regarding long-term efficacy or safety. A particular concern at present is the possibility that oral bisphosphonates might cause atypical femoral fractures. Observational data suggest that the incidence of this type of fracture increases steeply with duration of bisphosphonate use, resulting in concern that the benefit-risk balance may become negative in the long term, particularly in patients in whom the osteoporotic fracture risk is not high. Therefore, reappraisal of ongoing use of bisphosphonates after about 5 years is endorsed by expert consensus, and 'drug holidays' should be considered at this time. Further studies are needed to guide clinical practice in this area.

Keywords: SERM; bisphosphonate; calcium; denosumab; osteoporosis; strontium; vitamin D.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alendronate / administration & dosage
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / administration & dosage
  • Bone Density Conservation Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Bone Density Conservation Agents / adverse effects
  • Calcium Compounds / administration & dosage
  • Denosumab
  • Diphosphonates / administration & dosage*
  • Diphosphonates / adverse effects
  • Etidronic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Etidronic Acid / analogs & derivatives
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Hip Fractures / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Ibandronic Acid
  • Imidazoles / administration & dosage
  • Osteoporosis / prevention & control
  • Osteoporotic Fractures / prevention & control*
  • Raloxifene Hydrochloride / administration & dosage
  • Risedronic Acid
  • Risk Assessment
  • Spinal Fractures / prevention & control*
  • Teriparatide / administration & dosage
  • Thiophenes / administration & dosage
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vitamin D / administration & dosage
  • Zoledronic Acid


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Bone Density Conservation Agents
  • Calcium Compounds
  • Diphosphonates
  • Imidazoles
  • Thiophenes
  • strontium ranelate
  • Teriparatide
  • Vitamin D
  • Denosumab
  • Raloxifene Hydrochloride
  • Zoledronic Acid
  • Risedronic Acid
  • Etidronic Acid
  • Ibandronic Acid
  • Alendronate