There has been a major interest in the drug treatment of osteoporosis and an increase in the number of drugs available in most countries. The ideal drug (one which increases or restores bone density and trabecular connectivity) is still not available. However, in patients with relatively preserved trabecular connectivity and moderately reduced bone density, several agents have shown substantial clinical benefit. Oestrogens are still the mainstay of drug treatment, but the risks of breast cancer versus the cardiovascular and skeletal benefits with long term use have to be assessed in the individual. Newer tissue specific oestrogens show some promise in this respect. The bisphosphonates and possibly fluoride are likely to be the major alternatives to oestrogens in the medium term. The newer bisphosphonates, alendronate and in the future risedronate, are likely to supersede etidronate. Calcitriol probably has a limited role, confined to those patients in whom HRT or bisphosphonates are not appropriate. Calcium supplementation, or an increase in dietary intake if deficient, irrespective of which agent is used, is also of benefit. In older patients there is considerable support for using a combination of calcium and vitamin D. Whether combination treatment, for example oestrogens, bisphosphonates, and calcium together, will result in greater efficacy remains to be conclusively shown, but may be an attractive option in younger patients with higher bone turnover. Apart from fluoride, bone formation stimulators are unlikely to have a major role until the next century, although it may be possible to use growth factors as part of an ADFR regimen (A = activate remodelling, D = depress resorption, F = free formation, and R = repeat). This is still an important theoretical approach and needs further work with newer agents to see if increased efficacy can be found. In addition sequential treatment may be necessary in view of the limited time periods over which particular agents, such as intermittent fluoride (four years), have been examined, and this will have to be individually tailored. Other approaches include trying to increase peak bone mineral density, although influencing the young to prevent a disease that may not manifest itself for half a century is daunting.
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