Reducing your risk for osteoporosis

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a silent disease that causes bones to become fragile and prone to fracture. Bone loss usually occurs slowly over time, without symptoms.

Should you be worried about osteoporosis?

All adults, especially women, should know about their risk for osteoporosis and what they can do to prevent it. Osteoporosis leads to 1.5 million fractures of the hip, spine, or wrist each year. More than half of those who survive will need long-term care. A smaller number of hip fracture patients do not even survive the first year.

How do you know if you're at risk?

Talk with your health care provider, as each person's risk will depend on many factors. If it appears you may have osteoporosis, your health care provider can request testing to find out for sure (for example, a bone mineral density test). In general, the risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Lifestyle A diet low in calcium, not enough vitamin D, little or no exercise, cigarette smoking, and excessive use of alcohol are all risk factors.
  • Gender Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. This is due to women's lighter, thinner bones and the decrease in estrogen during and after menopause.
  • Age The longer you live, the more likely you are to develop osteoporosis. Although all of us lose bone tissue as we age, the amount and rate of loss varies widely with each person.
  • Family history Adults who have a personal history of breaking a bone, or have immediate family members who have had fractures, are at increased risk for osteoporosis.
  • Ethnicity Caucasian and Asian women are at highest risk. African-American and Hispanic women are at less but still significant risk.
  • Body size Low body weight (under 127 pounds) and a small-boned frame places you at risk.
  • Prolonged use of certain medications Long-term use of steroids used to treat conditions such as asthma, arthritis, and certain cancers can lead to bone loss and fractures.

What can you do to decrease your risk?

Make sure you're getting enough calcium and Vitamin D. For details on why and how to increase your intake of these two important nutrients, click here.

Do regular weight-bearing exercise. Weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercise can improve strength and balance and reduce the risk of falls. Exercise can also promote a modest increase in bone density. Weight-bearing exercises (which force you to work against gravity) include walking, jogging, stair climbing, dancing, and tennis. Weight lifting improves muscle mass and bone strength. Always check with your health care provider before starting a new exercise program.

Do not smoke. Smoking is bad for your bones as well as your heart and lungs. Women who smoke have lower levels of estrogen and go through menopause earlier than nonsmokers.

Avoid overuse of alcohol. More than two to three ounces a day may be harmful to your bones. People who drink heavily are more prone to bone loss and fracture because of poor nutrition and an increased risk of falling.

Remember: Osteoporosis can be prevented. Talk with your health care provider about your risk for osteoporosis and whether you should be tested. Take action NOW to reduce your risk and prevent this disease from happening to you.

For additional information, visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation Web site.

DISCLAIMER: The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.