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Here’s What You Should Know About Bone-Weakening Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease that makes your bones porous, thinner and weaker. It doesn’t cause pain, but if you develop osteoporosis, you could break a bone with a relatively minor fall—for example, losing your balance and falling from a standing height could cause a fracture. Whereas that type of fall typically won’t break a strong, healthy bone.

Fractures that stem from osteoporosis are common. “One in two post-menopausal women and one in five men over age 50 will have a fracture in their lifetime,” said Kristina Balangue, MD, an internist, geriatrician and palliative care physician at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix.

Often, a hip is the bone that gets broken in a fall. And many older people who fracture their hip never fully recover due to chronic pain both from the fracture itself and from the inactivity it causes. Thus, knowing your risk for osteoporosis and doing what you can to prevent it is important.

What puts you at risk for osteoporosis?

As you get older, your risk of developing osteoporosis increases. And these risk factors may also increase the chance that you lose bone mass:

  • Genetics or a family history of osteoporosis
  • Certain diseases or medical conditions, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune conditions, hypothyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, malabsorption or malnutrition from conditions such as celiac disease or eating disorders, and some cancers and cancer treatments
  • Medications such as glucocorticoids or steroids and certain medications for depression, chronic pain, seizures, heartburn, arthritis and other conditions
  • Disuse or lack of movement
  • Race—people who are of Asian or Caucasian descent have a greater risk
  • Gender—women are at higher risk than men
  • Frame size—the smaller your size, the greater your risk
  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia
  • Diet, including diets low in calcium and vitamin D
  • Deficiencies in sex hormones—estrogen in women and testosterone in men
  • Alcohol use, which may decrease calcium and vitamin D levels and increase the risk of hormone deficiencies
  • Smoking, which increases the risk of bone loss as you age and may slow fracture healing

How can you prevent osteoporosis?

You can lower the likelihood of developing osteoporosis and reduce your risk of fractures by keeping active with weight-bearing exercise. Physical activity helps strengthen your bones and helps keep you strong overall, so you’re less likely to fall. “When you exercise, you’re not so deconditioned. So, a simple trip isn’t as likely to lead to a fall,” Dr. Balangue said.

A healthy diet is also essential. Choose foods with calcium and vitamin D, which support bone health, and ask your doctor if supplements are a good idea. Avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol also help reduce the risk.

How can you detect osteoporosis?

You might not notice symptoms of osteoporosis unless you fall and fracture a bone. So screening to diagnose osteoporosis is crucial. A bone density test known a a DEXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan can check for signs of weakening bones. It’s a simple, low-dose x-ray of the hip, spine and wrist, and doctors generally recommend it for women over age 65 and men over age 70. The recommended age may vary based on your health history.

Even if you exercise and eat a healthy diet, you should be screened for osteoporosis. A healthy lifestyle reduces your risk but doesn’t guarantee that your bones will stay strong. “Some people don’t think they need to be tested for osteoporosis because they haven’t broken a bone,” Dr. Balangue said. But it’s important to test before something serious like a hip fracture happens.

How can you treat osteoporosis?

Two different types of osteoporosis medications can help protect your bones:

  • Antiresorptives such as Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva, Reclast or Prolia help you maintain the bone you have
  • Anabolics such as Forteo, Tymlos or Evenity can help you build bone

The bottom line

Osteoporosis is a common condition that causes your bones to become porous and weak. People with osteoporosis won’t necessarily notice symptoms, so it’s crucial to get screened if you’re at risk. To connect with a health care professional who can help you keep your bones healthy, long-term, visit

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