Bone Density Loss and Depo: Who's at Risk?

December 23, 2009

The current issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology includes an article on the risk of bone mineral density loss in users of contraceptive shots (DPMA, or brand name Depo Provera). As we mentioned in a previous post, the drug comes with a box warning that “Women who use Depo-Provera Contraceptive Injection may lose significant bone mineral density. Bone loss is greater with increasing duration of use and may not be completely reversible.”

The current study compared women who used DMPA for at least 24 months and had less than 5% vs. at least 5% bone loss to attempt to identify any characteristics that might be associated with a higher risk of bone loss.

The authors report that being a current smoker was associated with higher bone loss, while higher calcium intake (at least 600 mg/day) and having ever delivered a child were associated with lower levels of bone loss. Age, race or ethnicity, previous contraceptive use, and body mass index did not appear to be associated with higher bone mineral density loss.

Although only the abstract of the article is freely available, ScienceDaily provides an additional summary.

In other bone-related news, NPR published a piece this week, “How A Bone Disease Grew To Fit The Prescription,” which describes Merck’s approach to marketing the drug Fosamax, including its efforts to push smaller, cheaper machines to perform bone density scans (and for Medicare payment for the scans) and to expand the “osteopenia” diagnosis.

However, as the piece notes, “There are no long-term studies that look at what happens to women with osteopenia who start Fosamax in their 50s and continue treatment long-term in the hopes of preventing old-age fractures. And none are planned.”

The story and accompanying transcript provide a fascinating look at the marketing of a drug, from the perspective of a former Merck rep who believed he was helping save women from fractures through his marketing efforts, to criticisms of that work as “a plot to misdiagnose American women,” and the debate over whether women with slightly decreased bone density should be medicated at all.

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