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New Drug Being Tested to Treat Osteoporosis

There are a lot of myths about osteoporosis, a bone disease that leads to the thinning of bone tissue, and ultimately, to broken hips, wrists and spines. One myth is that only women get osteoporosis. Another: that only old women get it. The truth is, men can suffer from it too. So can young people. But osteoporosis is treatable, and now, there is a new, once-a-year treatment on the horizon. VOA's Carol Pearson has the story.

Osteoporosis is often called a "silent disease" because there are no symptoms, and people may not even know they have it, until they have back pain, or a fracture.

Cindy Uhl was 46 when she found out she had osteoporosis.... after she shattered her wrist during a fall. "It looked like I had gone through a car windshield from the way the bones had been damaged." She needed surgery to put her wrist back together.

Dr. Lorraine Fitzpatrick performed the surgery. "Cindy had bones that were equivalent of someone who is 15 to 20 years older than she was."

The U.S. National Institutes of Health estimates that many women in their 30s and 40s have significant bone density loss.

Looking at a hip fragment from a healthy, 40-year-old woman and looking at one from a woman of the same age whose bones are thinning, the differences are obvious.

While it is true that 80 percent of those affected by osteoporosis are women, and many are old, men can get it, too. Whites and Asians are most at risk, but people of other races can have osteoporosis as well.

Fortunately, there are plenty of medications to treat the disease.

Dr. Felicia Cosman, of Helen Hayes Hospital, says many people stop taking their medication within a year.

"People forget to take pills. People don't want to take pills. There are many people in this age group, women in their 60s, 70s and 80s who are taking other medications for other purposes and they don't want to take more medication."

Those who stop taking their medication are at greater risk of having a bone fracture. Twenty percent of hip fracture patients in the U.S. die within one year of their fall; usually from complications such as pneumonia or blood clots after surgery.

But a new drug, zoledronic acid, only needs to be taken once a year through an IV drip that takes 15 minutes.

Dr. Elinor Mody, with Brigham and Womens Hospital, said, "It's as good as other drugs on the market, and it's much more convenient and easy for patients to take."

A study found women who got zoledronic acid had dramatically fewer spine and hip fractures than those taking a placebo. The women on zoledronic acid also had significantly fewer fractures of other bones.