Understanding Osteoporosis - PIH Health

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Published on January 12, 2015

Understanding Osteoporosis

Understanding Osteoporosis

What is osteoporosis? 

Simply put, it’s a bone disease.  Approximately 54 million Americans have osteoporosis.  Osteoporosis means “porous bone”1 where bones have lost density and become weaker and more likely to fracture.  Because you can’t feel your bones weakening, the first sign of osteoporosis may be a broken bone or a curving back.   

Who is at risk?

Most risk factors fall into two major categories - controllable and uncontrollable.  While women are at greater risk, men get osteoporosis too.


Uncontrollable Risk Factors:

  • Being over the age of 50
  • Being female
  • Menopause
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Low body weight/being small and thin
  • Broken bones or height loss


Controllable Risk Factors:

  • Not getting enough calcium and vitamin D
  • Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
  • Too much protein, sodium and caffeine in diet
  • Having an inactive lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Losing weight

What medications cause bone loss?

Some medications are harmful to your bones, even if you need them to treat another condition.  Be sure to talk to your doctor about risks and benefits of any medications and how they may affect your bones. 

Following is a list of medicines that may cause bone loss:

  • Aluminum-containing antacids
  • Antiseizure medicines (only some) such as Dilantin® or Phenobarbital
  • Aromatase inhibitors such as Arimidex®, Aromasin® and Femara®
  • Cancer chemotherapeutic drugs
  • Cyclosporine A and FK506 (Tacrolimus)
  • Gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) such as Lupron® and Zoladex®
  • Heparin
  • Lithium
  • Medroxyprogesterone acetate for contraception (Depo-Provera®)
  • Methotrexate
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Lexapro®, Prozac® and Zoloft®
  • Steroids (glucocorticoids) such as cortisone and prednisone
  • Tamoxifen® (premenopausal use)
  • Thiazolidinediones such as Actos® and Avandia®
  • Thyroid hormones in excess

Note: This list may not include all medicines that may cause bone loss2.

What can you do to protect your bones? 

You are never too young or too old to take care of your bones. A healthy lifestyle can promote general good health and improve the health of your bones.

Eat a well-balanced diet including calcium and vitamin D

Recommended calcium and vitamin D by age3


Recommended calcium intake (milligrams a day)

Recommended vitamin D intake (international units a day)

1-3 years



4-8 years



9-18 years



19-50 years



Males 51-70 years





Females 51-70 Years





71 and older



Exercise on a regular basis, which translates to at least 30 minutes a day, everyday

Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, stair climbing, dancing or weight lifting as well as aerobics and resistance exercises that use weights or elastic bands to help improve muscle strength are all effective at increasing bone density and strength.  It’s important to note that not all exercises are considered weight bearing (e.g. biking and swimming) and thus will not help and can potentially worsen osteoporosis.

Maintain proper body alignment

Alignment is one of the most important factors in body mechanics and posture.  Proper alignment refers to how the head, shoulders, spine, hips, knees and ankles line up with each other to put less stress on the spine and help you maintain good posture. 

How is osteoporosis diagnosed? 

A bone density test using a DXA machine can diagnose osteoporosis before you break a bone. In addition to estimating your bone density, this test can also estimate your chances of breaking a bone. 

Once you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, blood and urine tests can identify possible causes of bone loss and other medical conditions.

What treatment plans are available? 

In choosing the right osteoporosis medicine there are many factors to consider.  First is your sex. Certain medications are only approved for women while others are approved for both sexes.  Next is age.  Some medicines are appropriate for younger vs. older women.  The severity of your condition will also dictate what type of medicine is right for you.  Finally, take into consideration your personal preference on types of medicine (pill, liquid, spray or IV) and frequency of dose (daily, weekly, monthly or annually).  Be sure to discuss all your treatment options with your doctor.

Osteoporosis is a serious bone disease affecting millions of Americans.  However, it can be avoided and managed through a healthy diet and regular exercise starting at a young age. 

1, 2: National Osteoporosis Foundation, nof.org

3: WebMD

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

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