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October 2023

Osteoporosis: What You Need to Know

Staying active is key to living a healthy life as you age. Preventing or managing osteoporosis can help you keep moving. This common disease can lead to serious injuries that compromise your mobility.

Osteoporosis causes your bones to become fragile. Basically, the inside of a normal bone looks like a honeycomb. When you have osteoporosis, the holes inside the honeycomb grow bigger. The outside layer of your bones also becomes thinner, which weakens them even more. As you lose bone mass, you’re more likely to break a bone—often in the hip, spine, or wrist. Even a bump or fall can cause a fracture.

What causes bone loss?

There are many different risk factors for osteoporosis. They include:

  • Sex: Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men.

  • Age: Your risk increases as you get older.

  • Family history: If you have a family member with osteoporosis, you may be at risk too.

  • Hormones: A drop in estrogen or testosterone levels are linked to osteoporosis.

  • Diet: Low levels of calcium, vitamin D, and protein can lead to bone loss.

  • Inactivity: Lack of physical activity or lengthy intervals of bed rest can weaken your bones.

  • Cigarettes: Nicotine disrupts the body’s process of building new bone.

  • Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol reduces the ability to absorb and store calcium.

  • Medicines: Taking certain medicines for a long time to treat other conditions can cause bone loss.

  • Medical conditions: Diabetes, some cancers, depression, and many other health problems can impact your bones.

What are the symptoms?

There are no warning signs that you have osteoporosis. You can’t see or feel bone loss. You may not know that you have it until you break a bone.

Is there a screening test?

Yes. A bone mineral density test is most often used to diagnose osteoporosis. The screening uses a technique called central dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (central DXA). It measures your bone density at your hip and spine. The results show whether you have osteoporosis and your risk of breaking a bone.  

Women older than age 65 should be screened for osteoporosis with a bone density test. You should also get screened if you’re a woman younger than age 65 with an increased risk for osteoporosis. Routine screening is not recommended for men. However, older men should talk with their provider about their risk for osteoporosis and whether to get screened.

How can I protect my bones?

Whether you have osteoporosis or are at risk of developing it, many of the steps you can take to protect your bones are the same. They often include lifestyle changes and medicine, if needed. Some lifestyle changes that can help protect your bones are:

  • Eating a healthy diet that’s rich in protein, vitamin D, and calcium. Good sources of calcium include leafy greens, fish, fortified cereal and orange juice, and low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese

  • Moving more with muscle-strengthening and moderate-intensity aerobic activities. Ask your provider which options are safe for you. Choose weight-bearing options, such as walking, if possible. Do at least 90 minutes of physical activity a week to start reaping the bone-health benefits.

  • Quitting smoking and limiting your alcohol intake. Talk with your provider if you need help with this.

Your healthcare provider may also recommend medicine to treat your osteoporosis. There are several different options available that target cells or hormones to either rebuild bone or slow bone loss. All medicine has side effects. Work with your provider to weigh the risks and benefits to find the one that may be best for you.




Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley BSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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