Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disorder in which bones become thinner and lose their strength. Individuals with osteoporosis are at higher risk for breaking bones. The most common osteoporosis-related fractures occur in the wrist, hip and spine.

Hip fractures can be difficult to heal. They reduce the person's ability to move around. This can lead to complications and other health problems, and often contribute to premature death.

Osteoporosis is more common in women than in men, largely because of hormonal changes that occur during menopause. Most people with osteoporosis don't know they have it until they have a bone density test or break a bone.

Diagnosing osteoporosis

Sometimes osteoporosis is diagnosed during a regular physical exam when you turn out to have lost some height. This happens because silent fractures of the spine cause it to compress or curve. To verify a diagnosis, an x-ray may be taken to see if your bones are less dense than they had been.

The best way to diagnose osteoporosis (or its precursor, osteopenia) is with a bone density test. The main way to measure bone density is with dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). This test takes 10 to 15 minutes and is painless. It uses minimal amounts of radiation and generally is done on the spine and hip.

Blood and urine tests may be recommended to identify a cause of osteoporosis, such as a thyroid problem. For most people, however, there is no clear cause of osteoporosis other than aging.

Treating osteoporosis

Osteoporosis can be treated several ways. If it is mild, daily weight-bearing exercise can help build bone mass. Getting more calcium from food, and possibly getting calcium and vitamin D from supplements, can also build bone or at least prevent more bone loss. A number of medications have also been developed to slow bone loss and build bone. Although bone mass usually does not return to normal after treatment, the risk of fracture may decrease dramatically.

Preventing osteoporosis

Preventing osteoporosis is far better than trying to treat it. You can help prevent osteoporosis by

  • eating foods rich in calcium, such as low fat dairy products, sardines, salmon, green leafy vegetables and calcium-fortified foods and beverages.
  • getting more vitamin D from the sun or a supplement
  • doing weight-bearing exercise like brisk walking every day
  • not smoking
  • not drinking too much alcohol

The outlook for people with osteoporosis is good, especially if the problem is detected and treated early. Bone density, even in severe osteoporosis, generally can be stabilized or improved. The risk of fractures can be substantially reduced with treatment.

Osteoporosis Articles

Yoga: Another way to prevent osteoporosis?

A 12-minute routine, involving holding each of 12 yoga poses for 30 seconds, done at least three times a week for two years, increased bone density in a small study of postmenopausal women with low bone density. (Locked) More »

Do you need a drug for osteoporosis?

Recent evidence indicates that the use of bone-building drugs is responsible for a decline in hip fractures. They are now available as tablets, injections, and infusions. You can choose one based on your health profile and lifestyle.  (Locked) More »

Calcium supplements for bone health: Do you really need them?

Dietary guidelines recommend a relatively large amount of daily calcium—1,000 to 1,200 milligrams per day—to prevent bone fractures. It can be difficult to get that much without taking a supplement. Recent science has called the high recommended daily intake into question. Common calcium-rich foods can provide most of men’s daily needs. (Locked) More »

Should you be tested for weak bones?

Bone health is a legitimate concern for both men and women, but low bone strength (osteoporosis) affects men to a lesser degree and later in life. Men with clear risk factors for osteoporosis should have a test called dual x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). (Locked) More »