AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)– Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle, so brittle that a fall or even mild stresses like bending over or coughing can cause a fracture.

Osteoporosis and related fractures most commonly occur in the hip, wrist, or spine. One reason osteoporosis is so dangerous is that it’s a silent disease. It has no symptoms. You won’t know your bones are weak. Most people don’t find out they have it until they’ve broken a bone, and this can lead to long-term disability.

Doctors and researchers at MCG are using grant money from the National Institutes of Health to better understand why, and how to keep your bones and muscles healthier longer. Bisphosphonates have been the main drug used to treat osteoporosis, the leading cause of bone fractures.

The drug’s use has slowed down because of concerns about potentially serious side effects, linking long term use to fractures of the femur, the biggest bone in the body. There’s also a link to an even more rare jawbone loss. Well, fortunately we have Dr. Laura Carbone with us to unpack some of these findings for us and explain more about osteoporosis and treatment options like Boniva.

She is the chief of the Division of Rheumatology at the Medical College of Georgia, and principal investigator on the new grant that we’re talking about. So you’re at the early stages with the grant, and you’re going to be looking at some of the specific questions that have already been laid out in the study.

“The whole purpose of this project is to develop a conversation that a patient can have with their physician to discuss, am I the person who should continue on these biphosphates for long periods of time? Or am am I the person who should stop these bisphosphate? And for what length of time? So what you were talking about your physician had told you was to go on what’s we call a drug holiday from a bisphosphate, which is a temporary stop in the bone, it’s usually, like you said, around four to five years after taking a drug. So your doctor can talk to you about these very, very rare side effects that you mentioned, that femur or long bone fracture in the thigh and that even rarer problem with the jaw and decide, are you the person who should stop these drugs because your risk of this is high or higher than the general population? Or are you the person should continue on these drugs because your risk of having these terrible osteoporotic fractures is greater? So the calculator will enable a conversation to put in your own individual risk factors that we will come up with to decide should you go on a drug holiday, or you at high risk of having a fracture and you should continue the drug?”

“Hip fractures are the most devastating fractures that could occur from osteoporosis. So someone falls, which is the major reason one breaks their hip, they fall, and then they have the hip fracture and they never get back to the level that they were before, and in fact, one in five people who have a hip fracture, up to 20% might die, actually, following the hip fracture. And a substantial majority of these find these hip fractures are actually never get back to the level that they were before, which is a real shame.”

“It’s a five year study, and we’re looking at a number of, huge number of databases to really come at what are risk factors for these very, very rare events. And then compare the event rate to that to typical osteoporatic fractures so we can come up with our calculator, so I suspect we’ll have some early news way before the end of five years. But the actual calculator that you as a patient can sit down with your physician and get online and fill in your individual data, probably won’t be ready ’til the end of the study. That’s the most important thing from the study is to give that calculator.”