How long should I take my medication?

The length of time you need to stay on your medication will vary, depending on your circumstances. Short-term treatment may be all you need. But if your risk of breaking a bone is high, you'll probably need to take your medication for longer.

Short-term treatment

Some osteoporosis medications, such as teriparatide, are always prescribed for a short time only. This is because we don't yet know whether it's helpful to take certain drugs for longer.

There are some treatments for other conditions, such as steroid (glucocorticoid) tablets and some cancer treatments, that are known to reduce bone strength. If you're taking one of these, you may be prescribed an osteoporosis medication for just a short time. The osteoporosis treatment will aim to counteract the effects of the other treatment.

Long-term treatment

If your risk of breaking a bone is high, you'll probably be advised to take an osteoporosis medication over a long period. In this case, you'll have a regular treatment review.

Reviewing your treatment

Your doctor should review your osteoporosis treatment every few years.

With some osteoporosis drugs, you should have a treatment review at least once every five years. This is because these drugs carry a small risk of rare but serious side effects if they are taken for a long time. These medications include:

The health risks associated with these medications are very rare. If your doctor has prescribed one of them, this means the benefits of you taking it outweigh the small risk of complications.

At your treatment review, your doctor will check whether:

  • you still need the medication
  • you have any unwanted side effects
  • the benefits still outweigh any health risks.

They will then explain whether you should continue with your treatment, pause it for a while, switch to a different drug, or stop treatment altogether.

Continuing your treatment

This is usually recommended if you’re still considered to have a high risk of breaking a bone. It's safer for you to continue taking your medication, than to pause or stop it.

Pausing your treatment

A treatment break is where you stop having your medication, usually for one to three years. Your doctor will then assess whether to restart it again.

Pausing your treatment may help to reduce your chances of long-term health risks. It will usually be recommended if your treatment review shows that your risk of breaking a bone has fallen, and you’re taking one of the following medications:

  • alendronate
  • risedronate
  • ibandronate
  • zoledronate.

These medications still continue to provide some benefit to your bones, even after you stop taking them.

Restarting your treatment

Your doctor will assess whether and when to restart after your pause in treatment.

If your health hasn’t changed since you paused your treatment, your prescription may simply be restarted after one to three years. In some cases, your doctor may need to do a full fracture risk assessment to reassess your risk, before making a decision. If so, they may refer you for a bone density scan.


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