Fact Sheet

Bisphosphonates for Osteoporosis

  • Editors
  • Jens Bollerslev, MD
    Steven T. Harris, MD
    Benjamin Z. Leder, MD

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition in which your bones become weak, increasing the risk of fractures (broken bones).  Throughout life, your body continuously removes old bone and replaces it with new bone.  But if your body can’t rebuild bone fast enough, your bones get weak.  Weak bones can break easily when you have a minor fall.  Bone fractures can be serious.  They can affect your ability to move, walk, and care for yourself. 


Women who have gone through menopause are especially at risk of developing osteoporosis.  Osteoporosis is more common in women than in men.  Other risk factors include

A bone mineral density test can show whether you have weak bones or osteoporosis.  Treatment includes exercising regularly, getting enough calcium and vitamin D, and learning how to prevent falls.  Some people also need medicines. 

Did you know?

Weak bones can break for no reason at all (called a fragility fracture).  People who have had a fragility fracture are at risk for more fractures.

What are bisphosphonates and what are their benefits?

Bisphosphonates are the kind of medicine used most often to treat osteoporosis.  They keep bones strong by slowing the natural breakdown of bone.  Bisphosphonates lower the risk of spine fractures and most lower the risk of hip fracture as well.

Several types of bisphosphonates are available, in pill or liquid form.  Some are given intravenously (IV), which means the medicine is injected into a vein at the doctor’s office or a hospital. 

What side effects do bisphosphonates have?

Side effects of bisphosphonates can include

Some people have reported serious side effects, but studies have shown that these are very rare:

What can you do about side effects?

If you take a bisphosphonate and you’re having side effects, tell your doctor.  Your doctor might give you a different kind of medicine to overcome the side effects.  For example, taking medicine through an IV instead of swallowing a pill can overcome heartburn. 

You can prevent serious problems by

What other treatment options are available?

Other medicines for osteoporosis include

Your doctor can talk with you about the risks and benefits of each of these medicines.

What do experts say about taking bisphosphonates? 

Experts say that the benefits of taking bisphosphonates outweigh the risks for most people with osteoporosis.  Overall, when you take this type of medicine, your chance of preventing fractures is high and the risk of serious problems is low. 

Questions to ask your doctor