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

Bisphosphonates may help men with osteoporosis

The commonly used bone-strengthening drugs called bisphosphonates may provide the same level of benefit for men as they do for women. It appears the drug zoledronic acid (Reclast) significantly reduced spinal fractures in men with osteoporosis. (Locked) More »

Acupuncture relieves common types of chronic pain

Acupuncture relieves chronic pain in the back, neck, and shoulders, and from osteoarthritis and headaches. Acupuncture is often used in addition to standard treatments, such as pain medications, when they do not relieve pain well enough. (Locked) More »

Men: Pay attention to osteoporosis

Although osteoporosis is often thought of as a woman's disease, an estimated two million American men have this bone-thinning condition and another 12 million are at risk for it. (Locked) More »

Update on osteoporosis treatment

New research highlighting possible long-term dangers of using a bisphosphonate to prevent or treat osteoporosis has people asking, "What do I do now?" How long to take a bisphosphonate depends on current bone density and osteoporosis risk. (Locked) More »

New knee helps your heart

Adults with osteoarthritis face lower odds of developing heart failure by having a total knee replacement. The procedure allows the recipients to exercise again, which can lead to better heart health. (Locked) More »

Staying active despite osteoporosis

Whether it comes after a broken bone or a low bone density reading, a diagnosis of osteoporosis spurs you to rethink your relationship with exercise. An exercise program will not only make your bones more resilient, but also help you avoid falls and fractures and lower your risk for chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes — all of which are important in preserving your mobility and independence.  (Locked) More »

Update on vibration therapy for bone health

Soon you may be hearing a lot about low-intensity vibration therapy for strengthening bones and reducing the risk of fractures. Two low-intensity oscillating devices designed for home use are coming onto the market, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which advises the federal government on health care matters, is expected to issue a report highlighting the evidence as well as the many unanswered questions about this unique approach to help postmenopausal women at risk for osteoporosis. (Locked) More »