What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that leads to increased risk of fractures. It can occur without any symptoms. Although osteoporosis is rarely lethal, osteoporosis patients have an increased mortality rate due to the complications of bone fracture (especially hip fracture). Osteoporosis is most common in women after menopause, when it is called postmenopausal osteoporosis. Since osteoporosis can be prevented and treated, early diagnosis can make a difference.

How can I be tested for osteoporosis?

One way to find out whether you have osteoporosis is by getting a bone mineral density (BMD) test. This test, which is also known as a bone mass measurement test, uses a special machine to safely and painlessly measure bone density in a certain area, such as your hip, spine, forearm, or wrist. Most BMD tests take less than 15 minutes, with no needles or other instruments placed into the skin or body. Patients can remain fully dressed. In some cases, osteoporosis testing may be done by x-ray, ultrasound or other technologies.

Should I be tested for osteoporosis?

Certain women are at higher risk of osteoporosis than others. You may be at higher risk of osteoporosis if you are:

  • small and thin
  • age 65 or older
  • related to individuals who have or had osteoporosis
  • experiencing significant height loss, posture changes or chronic pain
  • experiencing back pain, rheumatoid arthritis or anorexia nervosa
  • experiencing early menopause or loss of sex hormones
  • no longer undergoing estrogen therapy or hormone therapy
  • not getting enough calcium or vitamin D
  • consuming too much protein
  • taking certain medications such as steroids
  • receiving certain treatments for breast cancer
  • experiencing thyroid problems
  • a smoker
  • drinking more alcohol than is healthy
  • physically inactive
  • exercising more than your body can handle
  • prone to bone injury

In addition, if you are losing your eyesight or prone to dizziness for any reason, you may be at higher risk of a fall or injury; getting tested for osteoporosis could be a good preventive measure.

How is osteoporosis treated?

If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, your doctor may order laboratory and other tests to determine if your osteoporosis is being caused by another medical condition. If another condition is causing your osteoporosis, treatment will depend on that condition. To slow or stop bone loss, rebuild bone, and reduce the chances of having a broken bone, various medications and vitamin supplements may be prescribed, along with lifestyle changes involving exercise or dietary adjustments.