The bisphosphonates are pyrophosphate analogues that become incorporated into bone matrix and suppress osteoclastic activity, thereby reducing bone turnover and increasing bone mass, which makes them valuable agents for the prevention and therapy of osteoporosis. Therapy with the bisphosphonates has been associated with a low rate of serum enzyme elevations during therapy and has been linked to rare instances of clinically apparent liver injury.
Bisphosphonates are pyrophosphate analogues that have two phosphonate groups attached to a central carbon atom that replaces the oxygen present in pyrophosphate. The bisphosphonates bind calcium and are rapidly taken up in bone matrix where they suppress osteoclastic activity and change the balance between bone resorption and bone formation, thus increasing bone mass. The bisphosphonates have been shown to be effective in treating malignant hypercalcemia and in preventing and treating osteoporosis. Six bisphosphonates have been approved for use in the United States (pronunciation and year of approval given in parentheses) and they differ in formulation, recommended dose regimen, spectrum of activity and clinical indications.
• Alendronate (a len' droe nate) (1995) is available in tablets of 5 and 10 mg for daily use, 35, 40 and 70 mg (with and without vitamin D) for weekly use, and as a suspension for oral use in several generic forms and under the brand name Fosamax. Indications include prevention and treatment of osteoporosis and treatment of Paget disease of bone.
• Etidronate (e" ti droe' nate) (1977) is available in tablets of 200 and 400 mg for daily use in generic forms and under the trade name Didronel. Indications include Paget disease of bone and heterotopic ossification, but it has also been used off label for therapy of osteoporosis.
• Ibandronate (eye" ban droe' nate) (2003) is available in tablets of 2.5 mg for daily and 150 mg for monthly use and as an intravenous formulation under the trade name Boniva. Indications include prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.
• Pamidronate (pam" i droe' nate) (1991) is available as an intravenous formulation generically and under the trade name Aredia. Indications include hypercalcemia of malignancy, multiple myeloma and Paget disease of bone.
• Risedronate (ris" e droe' nate) (1998) is available in tablets of 5 mg for daily use, 30 and 35 mg for weekly use, and 75 and 150 mg for monthly use in generic forms and under the trade name Actonel. Indications include osteoporosis and Paget disease of bone.
• Zoledronic acid (zoe" le droe' nate) (2001) is available as several intravenous formulations generically and under the brand names Zometa and Reclast. Indications and dosage vary by preparation, but include prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, Paget disease of bone, hypercalcemia of malignancy and multiple myeloma.
The side effects of the bisphosphonates vary by route of administration, but are largely class specific. The oral formulations are generally well tolerated, but are recommended to be given on an empty stomach and with care that they enter the stomach (by drinking water and remaining upright) to avoid esophageal irritation and potential ulceration. Common side effects of oral formulations include headache, abdominal discomfort, dyspepsia, nausea and hypocalcemia. Severe side effects are rare, but have included esophageal ulcer, gastrointestinal bleeding and osteonecrosis of the jaw.
In most large prospective trials, the bisphosphonates were associated with only rare and isolated instances of serum enzyme elevations and no cases of clinically apparent liver injury. Since their general availability and wide scale use, however, there have been occasional publications reporting clinically apparent acute liver injury due to the more commonly used bisphosphonates (alendronate, ibandronate, risedronate), some of which were accompanied by jaundice. The time to onset ranged from 2 to 6 months or more, and patients typically presented with abdominal discomfort and nausea, sometimes followed by jaundice. The pattern of serum enzyme elevations was hepatocellular and liver histology showed an acute toxic hepatitis. Immunoallergic features (fever, rash, eosinophilia) and autoantibodies were uncommon. Most cases were mild-to-moderate in severity and all published cases resolved with drug discontinuation, although full recovery was not always prompt. The bisphosphonates given as intravenous infusions (zoledronate, ibandronate, pamidronate) have been associated with rare instances of mild hypersensitivity reactions with rash and fever which may be accompanied by transient and mild serum enzyme elevations without jaundice. In some cases, infusions can be tolerated using premedication with glucocorticoids or antihistamines. No instances of acute liver failure or chronic liver disease have been reported.
Likelihood score: E* (unlikely but suspected rare cause of liver injury).
Mechanism of Injury
The bisphosphonates are taken up by bone matrix and rapidly cleared from the serum by renal excretion. Hepatic metabolism is minimal, and thus it is somewhat surprising that they can be associated with hepatic injury. The mechanism of injury is likely to be metabolic idiosyncrasy as immunoallergic features are not typical.
Outcome and Management
The clinically apparent acute liver injury attributed to bisphosphonates has been mild-to-moderate in severity without published instances of acute liver failure or chronic liver disease. The possibility of cross reactivity of the hepatic injury among the various bisphosphonates has not been studied, nor is there published experience with rechallenge using the same bisphosphonates. Cross reactivity to such injury should be assumed and switching to another agent done with caution and careful monitoring.
References to the safety and potential hepatotoxicity of all six agents are given at the end of this Overview section.
Drug Class: Osteoporosis Agents, Bone Resorption Inhibitors
Drugs in the Subclass, Bone Resorption Inhibitors, Bisphosphonates: Alendronate, Etidronate, Ibandronate, Pamidronate, Risedronate, Zoledronic Acid
Case 1. Asymptomatic rise in serum aminotransferase levels during alendronate therapy.
[Modified from: de La Serna Higuera C, Pérez Villoria A, Rodríguez Gómez S, Martínez Moreno J, Betancourt González A, Martín Arribas M. [Alendronate-induced hepatocellular lesion]. Gastroenterol Hepatol 2001; 24: 244-6. Spanish. PubMed Citation]
A 76 year old woman with osteoporosis was found to have abnormal serum aminotransferase levels on routine testing done 3 months after starting alendronate (10 mg daily). She had no history of liver disease, alcohol abuse or risk factors for viral hepatitis. Her other medical conditions included hypertension, but she was not taking any other medications. She denied symptoms of liver disease and physical examination was normal without rash, fever, or hepatic enlargement or tenderness. Serum ALT levels were elevated with ALT 484 U/L, AST 368 U/L, and GGT 118 U/L, but normal alkaline phosphatase, bilirubin and prothrombin time (Table). Tests for hepatitis A, B and C (including HCV RNA) were negative as were routine autoantibodies. Abdominal ultrasound showed no abnormalities of the liver or biliary tree. Alendronate was continued and she was monitored. Two months later, serum aminotransferase levels had risen further and alendronate was stopped. Liver test abnormalities subsequently improved and serum aminotransferase levels were largely normal six weeks later.
|Medication:||Alendronate (10 mg daily)|
|Pattern:|| Hepatocellular (R=12)|
||1+ (serum enzyme elevations without jaundice or symptoms)|
|Time After Stopping
||Alk P (U/L)
The absence of any other cause of liver injury combined with worsening abnormalities while alendronate was continued, followed by prompt improvement on stopping, is reasonably good evidence that the bisphosphonate was the cause of the liver test abnormalities. The patient was never jaundiced and was minimally symptomatic.
REPRESENTATIVE TRADE NAMES
Alendronate – Generic, Fosamax®
Etidronate – Generic, Didronel®
Ibandronate – Boniva®
Pamidronate – Generic, Aredia®
Risedronate – Generic, Actonel®
Zoledronic Acid – Reclast®, Zometa®
Product labeling at DailyMed, National Library of Medicine, NIH
||CAS REGISTRY NUMBER
22 February 2016
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Orwoll E, Ettinger M, Weiss S, Miller P, Kendler D, Graham J, Adami S, et al. Alendronate for the treatment of osteoporosis in men. N Engl J Med 2000; 343: 604-10. PubMed Citation (Controlled trial of daily oral alendronate vs placebo in 241 men with osteoporosis; one man on alendronate stopped therapy because of high AST levels, but details not given).
Halabe A, Lifschitz BM, Azuri J. Liver damage due to alendronate. N Engl J Med 2000; 343: 365-6. PubMed Citation (71 year old woman developed asymptomatic elevations in serum enzymes 2 months after starting alendronate [ALT 163 rising to 447 U/L, Alk P 151 rising to 224 U/L], abnormalities resolving within 4 months of stopping).
de La Serna Higuera C, Pérez Villoria A, Rodríguez Gómez S, Martínez Moreno J, Betancourt González A, Martín Arribas M. [Alendronate-induced hepatocellular lesion]. Gastroenterol Hepatol 2001; 24: 244-6. Spanish. PubMed Citation (76 year old woman developed elevated ALT levels 3 months after starting alendronate [ALT 484 U/L, Alk P normal], resolving within 6 weeks of stopping: Case 1).
Carrère C, Duval JL, Godard B, De Jaureguiberry JP, Ciribilli JM. [Severe acute hepatitis induced by alendronate]. Gastroenterol Clin Biol 2002; 26: 179-80. French. PubMed Citation (71 year old woman developed jaundice 4 months after starting alendronate [bilirubin 21.7 mg/dL, ALT 25 times ULN, Alk P 1.1 times ULN], resolving within 3 months of stopping).
Greenspan S, Field-Munves E, Tonino R, Smith M, Petruschke R, Wang L, Yates J, et al. Tolerability of once-weekly alendronate in patients with osteoporosis: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Mayo Clin Proc 2002; 77: 1044-52. PubMed Citation (Controlled trial of 12 week courses of once weekly alendronate vs placebo in 450 men and women with osteoporosis; there were no differences in rates of side effects between the two groups; no mention of ALT levels).
Guañabens N, Parés A, Ros I, Alvarez L, Pons F, Caballería L, Monegal A, et al. Alendronate is more effective than etidronate for increasing bone mass in osteopenic patients with primary biliary cirrhosis. Am J Gastroenterol 2003; 98: 2268-74. PubMed Citation (32 women with primary biliary cirrhosis were treated with alendronate or etidronate for 14 days every 3 months for up to 2 years; there were no significant changes in liver biochemical test results).
Eisman JA, Rizzoli R, Roman-Ivorra J, Lipschitz S, Verbruggen N, Gaines KA, Melton ME. Upper gastrointestinal and overall tolerability of alendronate once weekly in patients with osteoporosis: results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Curr Med Res Opin 2004; 20: 699-705. PubMed Citation (Analysis of adverse events in 449 women and men with osteoporosis treated with once weekly alendronate vs placebo for 12 weeks; upper gastrointestinal side effects occurred at similar rates in the two groups [9.8% vs 9.4%], but results of ALT values and other laboratory tests were not mentioned).
Chesnut III CH, Skag A, Christiansen C, Recker R, Stakkestad JA, Hoiseth A, Felsenberg D, et al.; Oral Ibandronate Osteoporosis Vertebral Fracture Trial in North America and Europe (BONE). Effects of oral ibandronate administered daily or intermittently on fracture risk in postmenopausal osteoporosis. J Bone Miner Res 2004; 19: 1241-9. PubMed Citation (Controlled trial of oral ibandronate vs placebo in 2496 women with osteopenia for up to 3 years; there were no differences in frequency of side effects between ibandronate and placebo treated groups and no "clinically relevant changes in laboratory parameters").
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Yanik B, Turkay C, Atalar H. Hepatotoxicity induced by alendronate therapy. Osteoporos Int 2007; 18: 829-31. PubMed Citation (47 year old woman developed abdominal pain 2 months after starting alendronate [bilirubin not given, ALT 46 rising to 114 U/L, GGT 30 rising to 84 U/L], resolving within 3 months of stopping).
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