Menopause Society Issues First Osteoporosis Advice for 10 Years

Nancy A. Melville

September 16, 2021

In the first revision to its guidance on the management of osteoporosis in a decade, The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) has issued an updated position statement addressing evolving evidence on osteoporosis issues ranging from screening and risk assessment to appropriate use of preventive therapy in postmenopausal women.

"Since the 2010 statement, there have been important new developments in our field including better delineation of risk factors for fracture, resulting in better strategies for assessing fracture risk," Michael McClung, MD, who is a NAMS board member and co-lead of the editorial panel for the 2021 position statement, told Medscape Medical News. McClung is also director emeritus of the Oregon Osteoporosis Center in Portland.

"There is much more information about the long-term safety of therapies," he added. McClung also noted "the availability of four new drugs for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis and clinical experience informing us of the effects of using different treatments in various sequences."

Osteoporosis Is Substantially Underdiagnosed and Undertreated

A basis for the update, recently published in Menopause: The Journal of the North American Menopause Society, is the need to tackle the troubling fact that approximately half of postmenopausal women will experience a fracture related to osteoporosis in their lifetime, yet the condition is "substantially underdiagnosed and undertreated," NAMS underscores.

With that in mind, osteoporosis should be considered by practitioners treating menopausal and postmenopausal women at all levels of care.

"All physicians and advanced care providers caring for postmenopausal women should be comfortable assessing and managing their patients with, or at risk for, fractures," McClung added.

Osteoporosis Prevention in Young Menopausal Women

The NAMS statement covers a broad range of issues, and while most recommendations generally follow those of other societies' guidelines, a unique aspect is the emphasis on preventing osteoporosis in young menopausal women with estrogen or other drugs.

While underscoring that all menopausal women should be encouraged to adopt healthy lifestyles, with good diets and physical activity to reduce the risk of bone loss and fractures, pharmacologic interventions also have a role, NAMS says.

Though long an issue of debate, NAMS voices support for estrogen therapy as having an important role in osteoporosis prevention, as estrogen deficiency is the principal cause of bone loss in postmenopausal women.

"Hormone therapy is the most appropriate choice to prevent bone loss at the time of menopause for healthy women, particularly those who have menopause symptoms," the group states.

Drug interventions are specifically supported in women with premature menopause, at least until the average age of natural menopause, in addition to those with low bone mineral density (BMD) (T-score < –1.0) and those experiencing relatively rapid bone loss related to acute estrogen deficiency in the menopause transition or on discontinuing estrogen therapy.

"Although using drugs to prevent osteoporosis is not included in national osteoporosis guidelines, a strong clinical argument can be made for doing so, especially in women who come to menopause with low bone mass," the report states.

And therapy is also recommended if patients have a low BMD and other risk factors for fracture, such as family history, but who do not meet the criteria for osteoporosis treatment.

Ultimately, clinicians should work with patients when deciding the options, McClung said. 

"After carefully weighing the small risks associated with hormone therapy or other therapies begun at the time of menopause, menopause practitioners and their patients can and should make informed decisions about the use of FDA-approved medications to prevent osteoporosis in women who are at risk for developing that condition," he noted, adding that his view on the matter is his own and not necessarily that of NAMS.

New Treatments Endorsed for High-Risk Patients to Avoid "Bone Attack"

While most patients are treated for osteoporosis with anti-remodeling drugs such as bisphosphonates and denosumab, NAMS endorses "a new paradigm of beginning treatment with a bone-building agent followed by an anti-remodeling agent" for women at very high risk of fracture.

"Consider osteoanabolic therapies for patients at very high risk of fracture, including older women with recent fractures, T-scores –3.0 and lower, or multiple other risk factors," the statement suggests.

Among those at highest risk are women who have sustained a first fracture.

"A recent fracture in a postmenopausal woman is the strongest risk factor for another fracture," McClung said.

In fact, "having a fracture should be thought of and assessed as a 'bone attack'," he asserted.

Therapy is recommended in such cases to rapidly increase bone density and reduce their subsequent fracture risk.

"For these patients, osteoanabolic or bone-building agents are more effective than bisphosphonates and are recommended as initial therapy," McClung noted.

Treatment Discontinuation?

On the issue of drug holidays and when or if to stop therapy, as no therapies cure osteoporosis, medications should not be permanently stopped, even if bone density increases, NAMS recommends.

"By analogy, we do not stop diabetes therapy when A1c levels become normal," McClung noted.

"Because the benefits of therapy on bone density and fracture protection wane, quickly for nonbisphosphonates and more slowly with bisphosphonates, short-term therapy, for instance 5 years, is not optimal treatment," he said.

While the short-term interruption of bisphosphonate therapy may be considered in some patients, "the concept of 'drug holidays' does not pertain to nonbisphosphonate drugs," McClung said.

NAMS adds that management of therapeutic choices should instead be ongoing.

"During therapy, reevaluate the treatment goals and the choice of medication on an ongoing basis through periodic medical examination and follow-up BMD testing," NAMS recommends.

In terms of assessment, the measurement of bone mineral density while on treatment can gauge the current risk of fracture, and NAMS supports the use of the T-score at the hip as an appropriate clinical target in guiding choices of therapy.

Ultimately, "effective tools for diagnosing osteoporosis and assessing fracture risk are available, and well-studied strategies exist for managing bone health in women at both low and high risk of fracture," NAMS concludes.

"By individualizing treatment approaches and monitoring and adjusting those approaches if the clinical picture changes, the consequences of osteoporosis on a menopausal woman's activity and well-being can be minimized."

McClung has reported receiving consulting fees from Amgen and Myovant, and honorarium for speaking from Amgen and Alexon. He serves on the boards of NAMS and the International Osteoporosis Foundation.

Menopause. 2021;28:973-997. Abstract

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