Dangerous liaisons

Dangerous liaisons

Study explores connection between osteoporosis drugs and heart attacks

 By Jesef Williams

Might there be a strong link between heart attacks and medications used to fight osteoporosis?

Kent Wehmeier, M.D., an associate professor and chief of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville, has co-authored a study that explores the possible connection. The study was published in January in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, a medical journal sponsored by the Mayo Clinic.

The group of 11 researchers studied data from more than 14,000 military veterans 65 and older with femoral or vertebral fractures. They reviewed records that showed the first time a patient experienced acute myocardial infarction — commonly known as a heart attack — in relation to bisphosphonate exposure. Of the group, 2,197 of them were given bisphosphonates, which are drugs that prevent bone mass loss for treating conditions such as osteoporosis.

The study — which took into account age, sex, race, other drug use and other existing medical conditions, among other variables — found that, of the study group, the patients who used bisphosphonates had a higher heart attack rate compared with patients who did not use bisphosphonates.

These findings conflict with the authors’ hypothesis that the use of those drugs would lower the heart attack rate. Further studies are needed, but the researchers say this could affect whether doctors prescribe bisphosphonates to treat osteoporosis, particularly in elderly men.

Wehmeier said he’s evaluated many patients who have a combination of diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis. Noticing this combination of diseases in his patients motivated him to take part in this study.

“I asked the question, ‘What links these problems together?’” he said. “The original idea was that these medicines were originally developed to prevent calcium buildup. We thought there might be a beneficial effect on heart disease.”