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From the FDA Office of Women's Health

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What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a “silent” bone disease that develops when bone mineral density and bone mass decrease leading to a decrease in bone strength. Bones affected by osteoporosis may become so weak that fractures (broken bones) may occur spontaneously or as a result of a minor fall or normal stresses, such as bending, lifting, or coughing. 

What causes osteoporosis?

In women, osteoporosis is often caused by bone loss that occurs with the hormonal changes (low levels of estrogen) that come with menopause. Estrogen plays an important role in building and maintaining your bones. After menopause, your body makes very little estrogen.

The risk of developing osteoporosis is higher if you did not develop strong bones when you were young. Lack of physical activity, eating disorders, or other health problems can prevent you from building bone mass early in life, leading to less bone mass later. 

Who gets osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a common cause of fractures in postmenopausal women and in older men. It affects more women than men. Of the estimated 10 million Americans with osteoporosis, more than 8 million (80%) are women. In the United States, osteoporosis affects one in four women aged 65 or older, but younger women can also get osteoporosis. 

Osteoporosis affects people of all races and ethnic groups but is most common in non-Hispanic white women and Asian women. Girls and women of all ages need to take steps to protect their bones. 

Who is at risk?

You may be more likely to get osteoporosis if you:

  • Are female
  • Are over age 50
  • Smoke
  • Have a slim, thin body
  • Have family members who had osteoporosis 
  • Do not get enough weight-bearing exercise, such as walking
  • Drink alcohol (more than 3 drinks a day)
  • Have certain other medical conditions or take certain medicines for a long time

How do I know if I have osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a “silent” disease because you typically do not have symptoms. You may not even know you have the disease until you break a bone. A fracture can happen in any bone of the body, but fractures from osteoporosis are most common in the hip, wrist, and spine.  

There are tests that use either X-rays or ultrasound (sound waves) to measure bone density and can help determine if you have osteoporosis. X-ray tests, called DXA scans, examine your spine, hip, and/or wrist. DXA scans use a very small amount of radiation. Ultrasound tests the condition of the bone but is not used alone for diagnosis of osteoporosis. If the ultrasound indicates that you may have bone loss, you will still need a DXA scan test to diagnose bone loss and osteoporosis.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends osteoporosis screening for women over the age of 65 and for women of any age who have factors that increase the chance of developing osteoporosis. Ask your health care provider if you need a bone density test before age 65.

How is osteoporosis treated?

There is no way to cure osteoporosis. There are things you can do, listed below, to prevent more bone loss or build new bone mass and strengthen bones. Talk with your health care provider and make a plan to keep your bones healthy.

Lifestyle changes

There are lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk for osteoporosis.

  • Stay physically active. Do weight bearing exercise like walking.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • Get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Your health care provider may suggest taking calcium and vitamin D pills.

Dietary supplements

Dietary supplements are products that people add to their diets. Getting enough vitamins, like vitamin D, and minerals, such as calcium, is important for bone health. Talk with your health care provider before you take any dietary supplements. These may affect your other medicines.

Prescription medicines

There are prescription medicines that you can take. These medicines may come as a pill, a nasal spray, or a shot (injection). 

The following types of medicines can help treat osteoporosis. Most, but not all, of these medicines have been shown to reduce the risk of bone fracture. Talk with your health care provider about which medicine is right for you:

  • Bisphosphonates
  • Parathyroid hormone (PTH) analogs
  • RANKL inhibitor
  • Sclerostin inhibitors
  • Calcitonin analogs
  • Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs)

All medicines have potential side effects. Talk with your health care provider about which of these medicines may be right for you. 

If you are already on a medicine for osteoporosis, talk with your health care provider before you stop taking your medicine.

How do I prevent osteoporosis?

To help prevent osteoporosis, focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Building strong bones during childhood and the teen years is important to help prevent osteoporosis later in life. Regular check-ups and bone density tests can also be beneficial for early detection and management. 

Talk with your health care provider for advice on osteoporosis prevention based on your age, health, and risk factors.

How do I participate in research for osteoporosis?

Clinical trials can help health care providers learn more about treatments for osteoporosis. Visit the Women in Clinical Trials webpage to learn more about how you can participate.

DOWNLOAD - NWHW 2024 Social Media Partner Toolkit which focuses on bone health and osteoporosis. The toolkit provides resources for women and health care professionals, including sample social media messages and blog posts.

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Order Osteoporosis fact sheet in English and Spanish in bulk.

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