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Testing can prevent future complications

Your bones are seriously strong—four times stronger than concrete, in fact. And even if they break, they have the amazing ability to heal themselves and be back to normal within a matter of weeks.

But your bones change over time. 

While it may have been easy to recover after breaking your arm when you were 10, it’s much more difficult to heal your broken hip when you’re 80. 

That’s because our bones weaken as we get older. Your bones can become especially brittle if you have osteoporosis.

“Thousands of Americans break or fracture a bone every year because of osteoporosis,” said Daniel Scott Horwitz, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in orthopaedic trauma
“While this may not sound like a big deal, for older people, these injuries can be life-threatening. If you’re at risk for osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about whether you should be tested.”

Osteoporosis is a relatively common condition. About 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and 44 million have low bone density, which puts them at risk. It’s estimated that one in every two women and one in every four men will break a bone during their lifetime due to osteoporosis. 

“Osteoporosis is a condition that causes microscopic holes in your bones and lowers bone density,” said Dr. Horwitz. “This makes your bones weaker and more susceptible to breaks and fractures. Osteoporosis is especially common among older people—especially women.” 

What causes osteoporosis
“One of the most well-known causes of osteoporosis is a lack of calcium and vitamin D in your diet,” said Dr. Horwitz. “To prevent osteoporosis, doctors may prescribe calcium and vitamin D supplements to help maintain bone strength.”
 
While most people are familiar with lack of calcium as a risk factor, there are other reasons people get osteoporosis, too. 

Hormonal imbalances, such as low estrogen and low testosterone levels may lead to a loss of bone density. Changes in hormones are what put post-menopausal women at risk for osteoporosis. 

Because of the toxins in cigarette smoke, smoking can also cause osteoporosis. The substances in tobacco smoke can kill bone cells, making your bones more susceptible to osteoporosis. 

How doctors treat osteoporosis 
When caught early, osteoporosis can be treated with medications, supplements and diet and lifestyle changes.

New studies show that five-year treatments are effective at managing osteoporosis. If you have osteoporosis, your doctor will likely prescribe long-term medications called bisphosphonates and supplements such as vitamin D and calcium. After five years, your doctor will evaluate whether you need to continue treatment. 

Your doctor will also likely recommend an exercise routine. Exercise can help keep your bones and muscles strong, which can reduce the risk of future fractures. 

If you’ve been through menopause, talk to your doctor
Because menopause causes a sharp drop in estrogen levels, post-menopausal women have the highest risk of osteoporosis. 

“Osteoporosis is a silent disease and usually has no symptoms until you break a bone,” said Dr. Horwitz. “That’s why it’s important to have your bone density tested by a doctor, especially after menopause.” 

During a bone density scan, doctors use X-rays to identify osteoporosis. If they find signs of osteoporosis, they will likely begin treatment to reduce the risk of fracture and complications.  

Bone density scans are necessary for women over 65, but your doctor may recommend them to men and younger women, depending on their risk factors. 

Daniel Scott Horwitz, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon who is the chief of Trauma for the Geisinger Musculoskeletal Institute
Elderly woman has her arm examined.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis occurs when bones weaken and become more at risk for fracture. Osteoporosis affects both women and men. Your care manager can help you:

  • Understand how diet and exercise can improve your bone health
  • Ensure you take the right medications, if needed
  • Prevent falls

Get care for osteoporosis and arthritis