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What is Actonel®?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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Actonel® is also known by the names risedronate sodium, risedronic acid or more simply as risedronate. It is a prescription medication that people use to mostly treat or prevent acceleration of symptoms of osteoporosis. It is also sometimes recommended for treating Paget’s disease of bone, which results in errors in the way new bone is formed.

Actonel® belongs to a group of medicines called bisphosphonates. These act on certain bone cells called osteoclasts, which are responsible for destroying some bone matter. In a complicated manner, drugs like risedronate switch on the self-destructive properties of osteoclasts, promoting cell suicide or apoptosis. With fewer osteoclasts present, less bone matter is destroyed and bones may retain a certain level of integrity.

There are different types of bisphosphonates. Actonel® is an easy one to take because it is orally administered. It does have very special instructions and must be taken when a person will be sitting upright for at least half-an-hour after taking it. It also can’t be combined with meals or many other medications. Dosage may vary too, depending on the person, and some people use this drug once weekly, while others use it daily.

Many people wonder why it’s necessary to be in an upright position when taking Actonel®. There is much higher risk of damage to the esophagus if this position is not maintained. A single pill can cause damage to the stomach or esophagus if not properly digested.

Another risk with many bisphosphonates is developing a difficult condition in the jaw called osteonecrosis. This is more likely if people have been treated for cancer or have poor jaw health. In worse cases, the jaw may deteriorate slowly, and teeth might be lost with an increased possibility of infection.

For most people, osteonecrosis of the jaw will not occur, but there are mild side effects that may affect those who take Actonel®. Some may experience some stomach upset, particularly flatulence, constipation, diarrhea, or acid indigestion. Others have a small amount of back pain or arthritic-like pain in the joints, while others experience headache. These are considered mild, but if they continue, reporting them to a doctor could be of use. There are other bisphosphonates that a person might tolerate better.

More serious side effects exist and need immediate medical attention. These include feelings of pain in the chest, extreme heartburn, trouble swallowing, acute joint, muscle or bone pain, and any severe pain in the jaw. Another symptom requiring emergency care is if the ribs feel like they are burning or if there is a hot or burning sensation in the back.

There are also medicines that should be avoided when taking Actonel® including most non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or aspirin. Patients should thoroughly discuss with their physician any drugs, herbs, or supplements along with any medical conditions they have or have had to avoid potential problems or interactions. Such discussions help physicians determine the safest possible treatment.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGEEK contributor, Tricia...
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