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

Bone Density Test

This test, which is also called bone densitometry, uses specialized x-rays to measure the thickness and strength of your bones. Various scanners use different techniques. The one used most often is dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Quantitative ultrasound, which does not involve x-rays, may also be used. When bones are somewhat thin, the condition is called osteopenia. When bones become very thin, the condition is called osteoporosis. Bone density tests provide a precise measure of whether you have osteopenia or osteoporosis. Both sexes usually begin to lose bone thickness around age 50. However, women are much more likely than men to develop osteopenia and osteoporosis before age 70. Exercise and various treatments can help prevent and even restore bone loss. That's why diagnosing thin bones is important. Not only is a bone density test used to help detect osteopenia and osteoporosis. It's also helpful in monitoring your progress if you're taking bone-building medications. (Locked) More »

Osteopenia: When you have weak bones, but not osteoporosis

Like their names suggest, osteopenia and osteoporosis are related diseases. Both are varying degrees of bone loss, as measured by bone mineral density, a marker for how strong a bone is and the risk that it might break. If you think of bone mineral density as a slope, normal would be at the top and osteoporosis at the bottom. Osteopenia, which affects about half of Americans over age 50, would fall somewhere in between. The main way to determine your bone density is to have a painless, noninvasive test called dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) that measures the mineral content of bone. The measurements, known as T-scores, determine which category - osteopenia, osteoporosis, or normal - a person falls into (see graphic). Fracture risk increases as bone mineral density declines. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2001 reported that a 50-year-old white woman with a T-score of -1 has a 16% chance of fracturing a hip, a 27% chance with a -2 score, and a 33% chance with a -2.5 score. More »

What's the story with Fosamax?

Research suggests that the osteoporosis medication Fosamax, if taken for a long period of time, could cause a change in bones that makes them more susceptible to fracture. But the studies in question are inconclusive, so more research is necessary. More »

10 steps for coping with a chronic condition

It pays to organize your approach to heart disease or any chronic medical problem. Dealing with the pain and aggravation of a broken bone or burst appendix isn't easy. But at least there's an end in sight. Once the bone or belly heals, you're pretty much back to normal. That's not true for high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, or other chronic conditions. With no "cure" in sight, they usually last a lifetime. You can live with a chronic condition day to day, responding to its sometimes swiftly changing symptoms and problems. Or you can take charge and manage the disease instead of letting it rule you. More »

Osteoporosis in Men—The FamilyHealth Guide

As if there wasn't enough for men to worry about: Osteoporosis, the bone-thinning condition once considered a disease affecting just women, is now coming to light as an under-diagnosed condition in men. In fact, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 2 million American men have osteoporosis and another 12 million are at risk for it. Men over 50 are actually at a greater risk for an osteoporosis-related fracture than they are for prostate cancer. Osteoporosis has been largely overlooked in men for a few reasons. Men generally have larger and stronger bones than women by the time they are 30, when peak bone density is achieved. Also, men do not experience rapid bone thinning like women do following menopause. But, as in women, the bones of men start to gradually thin and lose strength after age 30. And bone density is affected by heredity, diet, sex hormones, lifestyle choices, physical activity, and the use of certain medications. So although men have a leg up on women in terms of peak bone density, they can still get into trouble if the conditions are right. The risk factors for osteoporosis in men include: More »