Taking a Break from Osteoporosis Medicines

Bisphosphonates are popular bone-building medicines that prevent and treat osteoporosis. Because these medicines build up in the bone, their benefits can last for several years. That's why you may opt to stop taking them for a few years. Doctors call this a drug holiday.

Or, like some women, you may want to take a break from bisphosphonates because of side effects such as bone, muscle, and joint pain. This pain usually goes away after the medicine is stopped. Over the long term, current research suggests that bisphosphonates have more benefits than risks.

Breaks aren't right for everyone

Have you been taking a bisphosphonate for five years? According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, you may consider stopping the medicine if you aren't at high risk for breaking a bone. This holiday can last a year or two, or even longer, depending on your bone health. But be warned: Going off bisphosphonates could be dangerous if you're at high risk for fractures.

Before you stop taking your medication, ask your doctor if it's the right choice for you. This will depend on factors such as your age, weight, health, and history of fractures, and results of your bone mineral tests, which measure bone health.

Other bone-building strategies

If you stop taking bisphosphonates, there are other ways to protect your bones:

  • You may switch to another type of medicine, such as an injectable hormone that helps the body build bone. Or you may not take anything at all. Your doctor can help you decide.

  • Eat a diet rich in calcium. Good choices include low-fat dairy, spinach, and tofu.

  • Get 400 to 800 international units of vitamin D a day. Some doctors recommend an even higher dose. Ask your doctor if you need a supplement.

  • Engage in weight-bearing exercise, such as tennis, dancing, and stair climbing.

  • Don't smoke or drink too much alcohol; both habits raise your bone risks.