Bone Mineral Density Loss and Fracture Risk After Discontinuation of Anti-osteoporotic Drug Treatment: A Narrative Review

Laura P. B. Elbers, Hennie G. Raterman*, Willem F. Lems

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


The number of patients on long-term anti-osteoporotic drug therapy is rising. Unfortunately, there are few data to guide decisions about duration of pharmacologic therapy for osteoporosis. Many practitioners discontinue therapy after a period of 5 years because of the risk of rare but severe side effects that may occur in long-term users. The objective of this narrative review was to describe the effects of discontinuation of anti-osteoporotic drugs and to investigate what is not yet known on this topic. For each anti-osteoporotic agent, PubMed was searched for evidence from randomized clinical trials in patients with osteoporosis on osteoporotic drugs lasting ≥ 3 years, followed by ≥ 1 year of follow-up after discontinuation of therapy and reported at least one item of the following: changes in bone mineral density, bone turnover markers and/or the risk of vertebral and/or nonvertebral fractures after discontinuation of therapy. The% change in bone mineral density (BMD) after 1 year of discontinuation of therapy is − 0.4% or less at the hip and femoral neck in both alendronate- and zoledronic acid-treated patients. In the other reported agents (risedronate, ibandronate, raloxifene, teriparatide, denosumab and romosozumab) this percentage of bone loss at the femoral neck and total hip was at least 1%, with the largest decrease in BMD after discontinuation of denosumab and romosozumab. In all studies reporting bone turnover markers, a substantial rapid rise in these markers was observed after discontinuation of therapy, with a large rebound increase to far above baseline levels in the denosumab-treated patients. There were few data on fracture risk after discontinuation of therapy; data showed that discontinuing alendronate, zoledronic acid and especially denosumab significantly increases the risk of vertebral fractures. In conclusion, osteoporosis should be considered more as a chronic condition. Therefore, in modern fracture risk management, continuous monitoring and treatment is required, as is the case with other chronic diseases, to sustain the benefits of therapy, especially in denosumab- and romosozumab-treated patients. The exception is alendronate and zoledronic acid, in these patients a discontinuation of drug therapy of 1 year or more might be acceptable.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1645-1655
Number of pages11
Issue number14
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021

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