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Frequently Asked Questions About Osteoporosis

From The National Women's Health Information Center

What bones does osteoporosis affect?

Osteoporosis affects all bones in the body. However, breaks are most common in the hip, wrist, and spine, also called vertebrae (VUR-tuh-bray). Vertebrae support your body, helping you to stand and sit up. See the picture below. See the picture below.

Osteoporosis In The Vertebrae


  • Sloping shoulders


  • Curve in the back


  • Height loss


  • Back pain


  • Hunched posture


  • Protruding abdomen
How can I find out if I have weak bones?

There are tests you can get to find out your bone density. This is related to how strong or fragile your bones are. One test is called dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). A DXA scan takes X-rays of your bones. Talk with your doctor or nurse about this.

How can I help my daughter have strong bones?

Act now to help her build strong bones to last a lifetime. Girls ages 9 to 18 are in their critical bone-building years. Best Bones Forever! is a national education effort to encourage girls ages 9 to 14 to eat more foods with calcium and vitamin D and get more physical activity. There is also a website for parents. This site gives parents the tools and information they need to help their daughters build strong bones during the critical window of bone growth — ages 9 to 18.

Dairy foods make me sick. How can I get enough calcium?

If you're lactose intolerant, it can be hard to get enough calcium. Lactose is the sugar that is found in dairy products like milk. Lactose intolerance means your body has a hard time digesting foods that contain lactose. You may have symptoms like gas, bloating, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and nausea. Lactose intolerance can start at any age but often starts when you get older.

Lactose-reduced and lactose-free products are sold in food stores. There’s a great variety, including milk, cheese, and ice cream. You can also take pills or liquids before eating dairy foods to help you digest them. You can buy these pills at the grocery store or drug store. Please note: If you have symptoms of lactose intolerance, see your doctor or nurse. These symptoms could also be from a different, more serious illness.

People who are lactose intolerant or who are vegans (eat only plant-based foods) can choose from other food sources of calcium, including canned salmon with bones, sardines, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, kale, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, broccoli, and calcium-fortified orange juice. Some cereals also have calcium added. You can also take calcium pills. Talk to your doctor or nurse first to see which one is best for you.

Do men get osteoporosis?

Yes. In the U.S., over two million men have osteoporosis. Men over age 50 are at greater risk. So, keep an eye on the men in your life, especially if they are over 70 or have broken any bones.

Will pregnancy affect my bones?

To grow strong bones, a baby needs a lot of calcium. The baby gets his or her calcium from what you eat (or the supplements you take). In some cases, if a pregnant woman isn't getting enough calcium, she may lose a little from her bones, making them less strong. So, pregnant women should make sure they are getting the recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D. Talk to your doctor about how much you should be getting.

How is osteoporosis treated?

If you have osteoporosis, you may need to make some lifestyle changes and also take medicine to prevent future fractures. A calcium-rich diet, daily exercise, and drug therapy are all treatment options.

These different types of drugs are approved for the treatment or prevention of osteoporosis:

  • Bisphosphonates (bis-fos-fo-nates) Bisphosphonates are approved for both prevention and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis. Drugs in this group also can treat bone loss, and in some cases, can help build bone mass.


  • SERMs A class of drugs called estrogen agonists/antagonists, commonly referred to as selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) are approved for the prevention and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis. They help slow the rate of bone loss.


  • Calcitonin (kal-si-TOE-nin) Calcitonin is a naturally occurring hormone that can help slow the rate of bone loss.


  • Menopausal Hormone Therapy (MHT) These drugs, which are used to treat menopausal symptoms, also are used to prevent bone loss. But recent studies suggest that this might not be a good option for many women. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made the following recommendations for taking MHT:
    • Take the lowest possible dose of MHT for the shortest time to meet treatment goals.
    • Talk about using other osteoporosis medications instead.


  • Parathyroid Hormone or Teriparatide (terr-ih-PAR-a-tyd) Teriparatide is an injectable form of human parathyroid hormone. It helps the body build up new bone faster than the old bone is broken down.

Your doctor can tell you what treatments might work best for you.

Last updated December 23, 2009




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