Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Bit of Medical Trivia

I was talking to a friend at church last night and learned that she has to have a lens replaced in her eye.  Somehow, what happened to her lens was because of a medication that she was taking for something else.  Which of course made me think of all the medications I've seen that have side affects that can be worse than the condition being treated:  condition:  acid indigestion, possible side affect: death (with the death part in a real fast voice or buried in small print...).

Which made my mind bounce to drugs like Fosamax and Boniva.  I noticed when they first came out - since I'm a  middle aged female the issue of bone density loss is one I pay attention to.  But I thought it was a bit surprising that bisphosphonates were being used to treat the condition.  I wasn't at all surprised, however, when my sister, who is a dental technician, told me that they were seeing serious jaw problems in their patients who took the drugs and had become reluctant to work on anyone using them.

Phossy jaw, more correctly called phosphorus necrosis of the jaw, was an occupational hazard of those who worked in match factories, which used white phosphorus for matches from the 1840s until 1910.  It began with toothaches, then the jaw bone would abscess and deteriorate.  The brain eventually would be damaged.  Removal of the affected jaw bone could save the victim, otherwise the condition was fatal.

It took active campaigning and the Berne Convention in 1906 to force a switch to safer red phosphorus and bring an end to the condition.  Which has now reappeared as a side effect for bone density drugs involving a form of phosphorus.

I often gripe at people about lack of knowledge of history.  I know that things like phossy jaw are just useless trivia to most folks, but in this case I'd be really curious to know if anybody involved in the development of Fosomax and related drugs ever heard of it.


  1. Granted my aunt was an older woman who had smoked most of her adult life, when she started taking that Fosomax. Her kidneys quit and she was on dialysis the last 5 or 6 years of her life. I have NO love for those organ killing drugs. I believe that is one of the more extreme warnings about those bone building drugs.

    Among all the many smokers on my dad's side of the family, my aunt was the only one to have any kidney problems other than the occasional stone.

    My wife doesn't like those drugs either. She is a pharmacist.

  2. I doubt that many care. We seem to be a quick fix society and the side effects be damned. I can't remember where I read(need to go look it up), but believe it is a very large number-many many thousands, that die each year taking the prescribed dosage of meds. It is the meds that killed them.

    Oh what times we live in.

  3. @Matt - Build bones, destroy organs. NOT a good trade off.

    @Humble wife - Which is why I only take what I absolutely have to. There are many things I'd rather put up with than risk the side affects of the drugs used for them. Granted, dieing does cure the ailment, but...