What is osteoporosis?

Preventing osteoporosis: Overview

Osteoporosis means the bones are weak and thin enough that they can break easily. The older you are, the more likely you are to get osteoporosis. But with plenty of calcium, vitamin D, and exercise, you can help prevent osteoporosis.

The preteen and teen years are a key time for bone building. With the help of calcium, vitamin D, and exercise in those early years and beyond, the bones reach their peak density and strength by age 30. After age 30, your bones naturally start to thin and weaken.

The stronger your bones are at around age 30, the lower your risk for osteoporosis. But no matter what your age and risk are, your bones still need calcium, vitamin D, and exercise to stay strong. Also avoid smoking, and limit alcohol. Smoking and heavy alcohol use can make your bones thinner.

Talk to your doctor about any special risks you might have, such as having a close relative with osteoporosis or taking a medicine that can weaken bones. Your doctor can tell you the best ways to protect your bones from thinning.


Osteoporosis is a disease that makes your bones thin, brittle, and easy to break. It's related to the loss of bone mass that happens as a natural part of aging. It's most common in women who have gone through menopause, but it can also occur in men.

As osteoporosis gets worse, it can lead to broken bones in the hip, spine, and wrist. Treatment can slow bone loss and increase bone thickness.

What happens when you have osteoporosis?

After the age of 30, you begin to lose a small amount of bone each year. This makes your bones thinner over time and can eventually lead to osteoporosis. When bones thin, they lose strength and break more easily. Osteoporosis often doesn't have a noticeable effect on people until they are 60 or older.

What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?

In the early stages of osteoporosis, you probably won't have symptoms. As the disease progresses, you may have symptoms related to weakened bones, such as:

  • Broken bones (fractures) that might occur with a minor injury, especially in the hip, spine, and wrist.
  • Back pain.
  • Loss of height and stooped posture.
  • A curved upper back (dowager's hump). You might notice that you aren't as tall as you used to be.
  • Compression fractures in the spine that may cause severe back pain. But sometimes these fractures cause only minor symptoms or no symptoms at all.

How is osteoporosis treated?

Treatment for osteoporosis focuses on reducing bone loss, building bone strength, and preventing broken bones. Treatment may include:

  • Taking medicines that slow the rate of bone thinning and help build bone density.
  • Getting enough calcium and vitamin D to build strong, healthy bones.
  • Having healthy habits, such as getting plenty of weight-bearing exercise, eating healthy foods, and not smoking. This can help slow osteoporosis.

Making even small changes in how you eat and exercise, along with taking medicine, can help prevent a broken bone.

It's also important to protect yourself from falling. For example, you can reduce your risk of breaking a bone by making your home safer.

How can you help prevent osteoporosis?

Here are some things you can do to build and strengthen your bones:

  • Get enough calcium and vitamin D.
    • Eat foods rich in calcium, like yogurt, cheese, milk, and dark green vegetables.
    • Eat foods rich in vitamin D, like eggs, fatty fish, cereal, and fortified milk.
    • Get some sunshine. Your body uses sunshine to make its own vitamin D.
    • Talk to your doctor about taking a calcium plus vitamin D supplement if you don't think you are getting enough through your diet and sunshine.
  • Get regular bone-building exercise. Walking, jogging, dancing, and lifting weights can make your bones stronger.
  • Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking can make bones thin faster. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

How is osteoporosis diagnosed?

To diagnose osteoporosis, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and do a physical exam. You may also have a test that measures your bone strength (bone density test) and your risk for a broken bone.

How are medicines used to treat osteoporosis?

Medicines are used to both prevent and treat osteoporosis. Some medicines slow the rate of bone loss or make bones thicker. Medicines are also used for pain from broken bones caused by osteoporosis.

Medicine for treatment and prevention

Medicines that help treat and prevent bone loss include:

  • Bisphosphonates. Examples are alendronate (Fosamax), ibandronate (Boniva), risedronate (Actonel), and zoledronic acid (Reclast).
  • Denosumab (Prolia). It's used to treat people who are at high risk for bone fractures related to decreased bone density.
  • Raloxifene (Evista). This medicine is a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM).
  • Teriparatide (Forteo). It's used for the treatment of men and postmenopausal women who have severe osteoporosis and who are at high risk for bone fracture.

Medicine for pain from fractures

Compression fractures and other broken bones caused by osteoporosis can cause a lot of pain that lasts for several weeks. Medicines to relieve this pain include:

  • Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol. You can buy this without a prescription.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen. You need a prescription for some NSAIDs, and you can buy some without a prescription. But they are not safe for everyone. Talk to your doctor about whether NSAIDs are right for you.
  • An opioid pain reliever. These include codeine or morphine.
  • Calcitonin, such as Miacalcin.

How can you care for yourself when you have osteoporosis?

You can do a lot to slow bone loss and prevent broken bones.

  • Get enough calcium and vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Calcium is found in many foods, including dairy products like milk and yogurt. Ask your doctor if you need to take a supplement that contains calcium plus vitamin D.
  • Get regular bone-building exercise. This includes:
    • Weight-bearing exercises like walking, jogging, stair climbing, and dancing.
    • Resistance exercises with weights or elastic bands.
  • Don’t smoke. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines.
  • Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.
  • Prevent falls.
    • Use a cane or walker, if you need it.
    • Install handrails on stairways, around your shower or tub area, and near the toilet.
    • Remove throw rugs and other objects that are in the way.

What puts you at risk for osteoporosis?

A number of things put you at risk for osteoporosis. These include being older, being a woman who has gone through menopause, and having a slender body frame. Smoking and not getting enough calcium and vitamin D also put you at risk. Some men can be at risk because of low testosterone.

How does weight-bearing exercise help you maintain healthy bones?

Doing weight-bearing exercises throughout your life can help you prevent osteoporosis. They help you build strong bones as a young person. And they help you maintain your bone thickness (density) as an adult. But if you stop exercising, your bones will start to thin.

Some weight-bearing exercise is aerobic, such as walking, jogging, climbing, and dancing. Some is resistance, such as lifting weights.

Starting these exercises at any age will help prevent bone loss. It's best to do aerobic exercises for at least 2½ hours a week. For example, do them 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. Experts recommend that you do resistance exercises at least 2 days a week.

Exercises that aren't weight-bearing, such as swimming, are good for your general health. But they don't work your muscles and bones against gravity, so they don't stimulate new bone growth.

Healthy Bone Versus Bone Weakened by Osteoporosis

Healthy bone compared to bone weakened by osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a progressive disease that causes bones to become thin and porous, significantly increasing the risk for spinal and hip fractures. Osteoporosis usually does not have an effect on people until they are 60 or older.

What causes osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is caused by a lack of bone strength or bone density.

As a natural part of aging, bone tissue breaks down. It is absorbed faster than new bone is made, and bones become thinner. You are more likely to have osteoporosis if you didn't reach your ideal bone density during your childhood and teen years.

Osteoporosis is much more common in women than in men. In women, bone loss increases around menopause. That's when ovaries decrease production of estrogen, a hormone that protects against bone loss. So the older a woman gets, the more likely she is to have osteoporosis.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease that affects your bones. Your bones become thin and brittle with lots of holes inside them like a sponge. The bones can easily break, leading to broken bones (fractures) in the hip, spine, and wrist.

Preventing osteoporosis: When to call

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

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