From the National Institutes of Health's Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center
A comprehensive osteoporosis treatment program includes a focus on proper nutrition, exercise, and safety issues to prevent falls that may result in fractures. In addition, your doctor may prescribe a medication to slow or stop bone loss, increase bone density, and reduce fracture risk.
Nutrition: The foods we eat contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients that help keep our bodies healthy. All of these nutrients are needed in balanced proportion. In particular, calcium and vitamin D are needed for strong bones, and for your heart, muscles, and nerves to function properly. (See the Prevention section for recommended amounts of calcium.)
Exercise: Exercise is an important component of an osteoporosis prevention and treatment program. Exercise not only improves your bone health, but it increases muscle strength, coordination, and balance, and leads to better overall health. While exercise is good for someone with osteoporosis, it should not put any sudden or excessive strain on your bones. As extra insurance against fractures, your doctor can recommend specific exercises to strengthen and support your back.
Several medications are available for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis:
Bisphosphonates — Alendronate (Fosamax), risedronate (Actonel), and ibandronate (Boniva) are medications from the class of drugs called bisphosphonates. These bisphosphonates are approved for both prevention and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis. Alendronate is also approved to treat bone loss that results from glucocorticoid medications such as prednisone or cortisone and is approved for treating osteoporosis in men. Risedronate is approved to prevent and treat glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis and to treat osteoporosis in men. Another bisphosphonate, zoledronic acid (Reclast), is approved for the treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis, to increase bone mass in men with osteoporosis, for the prevention of fractures in patients who have recently had a low-trauma hip fracture, and for the prevention and treatment of glucocorticoid-osteoporosis in men and women.
Side effects of oral bisphosphonates include gastrointestinal problems such as difficulty swallowing, inflammation of the esophagus, and gastric ulcer.
Side effects of intravenous bisphosphonates include flu-like symptoms, fever, pain in muscles or joints, and headache. These side effects can occur shortly after receiving an infusion and generally stop within 2 to 3 days.
There also have been rare reports of osteonecrosis of the jaw and of visual disturbances in people taking oral and intravenous bisphosphonates.
Some bisphosphonates are marketed with calcium and vitamin D supplements. These nutrients are important for everyone, and people should include adequate amounts of them in their diets.
Raloxifene — Raloxifene (Evista) is approved for the prevention and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis. It is from a class of drugs called estrogen agonists/antagonists, commonly referred to as selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs). Although side effects are not common with raloxifene, those reported include hot flashes and blood clots in the veins, the latter of which is also associated with estrogen therapy.
Calcitonin — Calcitonin (Miacalcin, Fortical) is a naturally occurring hormone involved in calcium regulation and bone metabolism. It is approved for the treatment of osteoporosis in women who are at least 5 years past menopause. Although it does not affect other organs or systems in the body, injectable calcitonin may cause an allergic reaction and unpleasant side effects including flushing of the face and hands, frequent urination, nausea, and skin rash. The only side effect reported with nasal calcitonin is nasal irritation.
Teriparatide — Teriparatide (Forteo) is an injectable form of human parathyroid hormone. It is approved for postmenopausal women and men with osteoporosis who are at high risk for having a fracture. Unlike the other drugs used in osteoporosis, teriparatide acts by stimulating new bone formation. Side effects include nausea, dizziness, and leg cramps. Teriparatide is approved for use for up to 24 months.
Estrogen/hormone therapy — Estrogen/hormone therapy (ET/HT) is approved for preventing postmenopausal osteoporosis and is most commonly administered in the form of a pill or skin patch. When estrogen—also known as estrogen therapy or ET—is taken alone, it can increase a woman’s risk of developing cancer of the uterine lining (endometrial cancer). To eliminate this risk, doctors prescribe the hormone progestin—also known as hormone therapy or HT—in combination with estrogen for those women who have not had a hysterectomy. Side effects of ET/HT include vaginal bleeding, breast tenderness, mood disturbances, blood clots in the veins, and gallbladder disease.
The Women's Health Initiative, a large government-funded research study, recently demonstrated that the drug Prempro (estrogen combined with progestin), which is used in hormone therapy, is associated with a modest increase in the risk of breast cancer, stroke, and heart attack. The WHI also demonstrated that in patients who had a hysterectomy, estrogen therapy alone was associated with an increase in the risk of stroke, but not of breast cancer or cardiovascular disease. A large study from the National Cancer Institute indicated that long-term use of estrogen therapy may be associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Estrogen therapy is approved for treatment of menopausal symptoms but should be prescribed for the shortest period of time possible. When used solely for the prevention of postmenopausal osteoporosis, any ET/HT regimen should be considered only for women at significant risk of osteoporosis, and nonestrogen medications should be carefully considered first.