Over 650 lawsuits have been filed by women throughout the United States who have developed osteonecrosis of the jaw after taking bisphosphonates like Fosamax to treat osteoporosis. Osteonecrosis of the jaw is an irreversible bone disease causing the jaw bone to become brittle, die, and sometimes requires partial jaw removal. The first of three court case is planned for August 11, 2009.
Fosamax (alendronic acid), produced by Merck Co., is a bisphosphonate drug used by millions of women to treat osteoporosis as well as Paget’s Disease and other fragile bone conditions. It works by inhibiting osteoclast cells which naturally break down bone and release minerals back into the body. However, in the process, it also effects new bone growth. In order for new bone to be made, osteoclast cells must signal their counterpart, osteoblast cells, which are responsible for building new bone. Thus, new bone growth is inhibited as osteoclast cells absorb Fosamax. As this happens, fewer small blood cells are able to grow and less blood is able to reach bone cells. Eventually this may cause the bone to become brittle and die.
Patients are claiming that Merck has known about this side effect for over five years, but has not provided adequate warning about the risk of osteonecrosis. Over the past few years there has been an increase in the number of jaw osteonecrosis cases noted by dentists. Additionally, there have also been reports of osteonecrosis of the hip, shoulder, and knee.
Osteonecrosis symptoms typically don’t appear until it is too late to reverse the effects. Symptoms may include jaw pain, swelling, infection of the gums, loose teeth, or exposed jaw bone within the mouth. Fosamax patients should avoid any minor dental surgery that may expose the jaw bone like having a tooth pulled. This may prompt infection and prevent healing.
Have you or someone you know experienced or been diagnosed with osteonecrosis after taking Fosamax or any other bisphosphonate? Please share your experiences!