Skip to main content

09-12-2015 | Osteoporosis | Review | Article

Bisphosphonate Treatment in Osteoporosis: Optimal Duration of Therapy and the Incorporation of a Drug Holiday

HSS Journal ®

Authors: MD Jordan C. Villa, BS Arianna Gianakos, MD Joseph M. Lane

Publisher: Springer US



Bisphosphonates are the most widely used treatment for osteoporosis. They accumulate in the bone for years, and therefore, their inhibitory effects on osteoclasts may persist after drug discontinuation. The ideal duration of therapy remains controversial.


The purpose of this study is to review the literature to determine the (1) indications for drug holiday, (2) the duration of drug holiday, (3) the evaluation during drug holiday, and (4) the proper treatment and maintenance after drug holiday.


A review of two electronic databases (PubMed/MEDLINE and EMBASE) was conducted using the term “(Drug holiday),” in January 29, 2015. Inclusion criteria were as follows: (1) clinical trials and case control, (2) human studies, (3) published in a peer-review journal, and (4) written in English. Exclusion criteria were as follows: (1) case reports, (2) case series, and (3) in vitro studies.


The literature supports a therapeutic pause after 3–5 years of bisphosphonate treatment in patients with minor bone deficiencies and no recent fragility fracture (low risk) and in patients with moderate bone deficiencies and/or recent fragility fracture (moderate risk). In these patients, a bone health reevaluation is recommended every 1–3 years. Patients with high fracture risk should be maintained on bisphosphonate therapy without drug holiday.


The duration and length of drug holiday should be individualized for each patient. Evaluation should be based on serial bone mass measurements, bone turnover rates, and fracture history evaluation. If after drug therapy, assessments show an increased risk of fracture, the patient may benefit from initiating another treatment. Raloxifene, teriparatide, or denosumab are available options.

Please log in to get access to this content

Related topics