Osteoporosis is a disease that thins and weakens bones to the point where they may break easily. This disease often affects bones in the hip, spine, and wrist. Osteoporosis is more common in women who have gone through menopause, but men also get osteoporosis.
What is the cause?
Your body is always making new bone to replace old bone. When you have osteoporosis, your bone breaks down and doesnâ€™t replace itself completely, resulting in weak bones. After age 35, your bones slowly get weaker as you get older.
Things that increase your risk of osteoporosis include:
Lifestyle habits such as
Having 3 or more drinks of alcohol a day
Too little calcium in the diet
Not enough weight-bearing exercise such as walking, playing ball, or lifting weights
Family history of osteoporosis
Long-term use of some medicines, such as steroids used to treat asthma or arthritis, thyroid medicines, anti-seizure medicines, aluminum-containing antacids, and some cancer treatments
Diseases, such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and heart failure
Less commonly, too much exercise (such as training for and running marathons), which lowers estrogen levels
Long periods of bed rest during serious illness
Eating disorders, such as anorexia, or too much dieting
Low levels of the male hormone testosterone
What are the symptoms?
Usually, you donâ€™t have any symptoms until a bone breaks. Broken bones are the most common problem for people with osteoporosis. Often it’s the hip, arm, or wrist that breaks, usually as the result of a fall or serious bump.
The bones of the spine may also break. They can break from injury or just from lifting something heavy or suddenly bending. Fractures in the spine can cause a loss of height, back pain, and a stooping posture.
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Tests may include:
A bone mineral density test, such as a DEXA scan. This test is a special X-ray exam of the spine, hip, or wrist. A DEXA scan is recommended for men age 70 and older. If you have a high risk for osteoporosis, you may need the test by age 50. Talk to your healthcare provider about this.
An ultrasound, which uses sound waves to show pictures of the bones
How is it treated?
Treatment can slow down the loss of bone and rebuild some bone. It does not restore bone strength back to normal.
The 3 essentials of treatment for osteoporosis are:
Weight-bearing exercise. Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking or stair climbing, helps keep your bones strong and strengthens your muscles.
Calcium in the diet. Calcium helps your bones stay healthy. If your calcium levels are low, you may need to increase the amount of calcium in your diet. Calcium is found naturally in foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. It can also be taken as a supplement. Calcium supplements may increase your risk for heart disease. Talk to your healthcare provider before starting any calcium supplement.
Vitamin D in the blood. If you have low blood levels of vitamin D, you may need to take supplements. Talk to your healthcare provider before starting any vitamin D supplement.
Medicine to slow bone loss and help reduce fractures. Medicine may be prescribed if your bone loss does not get better with other treatments. It may also be prescribed if you have had a broken bone because of osteoporosis.
How can I take care of myself and help prevent osteoporosis?
Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:
Eat a healthy diet. Foods such as low-fat milk and dairy products, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, sardines, and shellfish can help you get calcium.
Get regular weight-bearing exercise. Walking is very good. Strengthening your muscles as well as your bones can help prevent falls. Ask your healthcare provider if there are any limits to how much you should exercise.
If you smoke, try to quit. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to quit smoking.
If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink.
Avoid antacids that contain aluminum, such as Amphojel, Gaviscon, or Mylanta.
Try to make your home safe from accidents to prevent falls and injury. If you have had problems with falling, be sure to let your healthcare provider know. You may need physical therapy to improve your balance and walking.
Ask your healthcare provider:
How and when you will hear your test results
If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-09-30 Last reviewed: 2014-09-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Osteoporosis in Men: References
Xiao Q, Murphy RA, Houston DK, Harris Tb, Chow WH, Park Y (2013) Dietary and supplemental calcium intake and cardiovascular disease mortality: the National Institutes of Health-AARP diet and health study. JAMA Intern Med. 173(8):639-46. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.3283.