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Osteoporosis: Evaluate Your Risk

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes rapid thinning of bones. Over time, this weakens the bones and can make them more likely to break. About 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, and 80 percent of them are women, the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) says. About 34 million more have below-normal bone density that hasn't reached the level of osteoporosis. Women are more likely than men to develop osteoporosis, in part because men have larger, stronger bones.

Both men and women older than age 50 are at the greatest risk for developing osteoporosis, the NOF says. One in two women and one in four men in this age group will fracture a bone because of osteoporosis. Ethnic group also plays a role: People who are white or Asian are more likely to develop osteoporosis than people who are Hispanic or African-American.

Besides older age and ethnic background, these are risks factors that may increase your chances for developing osteoporosis:

  • Small bone structure

  • Family history of osteoporosis

  • Previous facture, especially after age 50

  • Being postmenopausal

  • Anorexia nervosa

  • Cigarette smoking

  • Alcohol abuse

  • Not getting an adequate amount of calcium and vitamin D

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • Certain medications, including glucocorticoids, thyroid hormone replacement, and epilepsy drugs

Many people are unaware they have osteoporosis until they have advanced symptoms, which may include a broken hip or wrist, low back pain, or a hunched back.

Diagnosing osteoporosis

If your health care provider suspects that you have osteoporosis, a simple, painless test to measure bone mineral density can confirm it. The test is called bone densitometry or bone density test.

If you're diagnosed with osteoporosis, a number of medications are available to treat it, including bisphosphonates and calcitonin. Talk to your health care provider about the type of treatment that's best for you.


To help prevent osteoporosis:

  • Do regular weight-bearing exercise. The best exercise for your bones is weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, dancing, jogging, stair-climbing, playing racquet sports, and hiking. If you've been sedentary, be sure to check with your health care provider before beginning any exercise program.

  • Take calcium and vitamin D. People older than age 50 should get 1,200 mg of calcium per day. If you have difficulty getting enough calcium from foods, take a supplement to make up the difference. Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb calcium. A daily intake of 800–1000 IUs is recommended by the NOF. Fortified dairy products, egg yolks, saltwater fish, and liver are high in the vitamin.

  • Don't smoke.

  • Don't drink alcohol in excess.