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Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become increasingly more porous and brittle – due to the loss of calcium and other mineral components. If not prevented or left untreated, osteoporosis can cause bone fractures, which usually occur in the hip, spine or wrist—though any bone can be affected.

A hip fracture almost always requires hospitalization and major surgery. It can impair your ability to walk. Spinal or vertebral fractures also have serious consequences, including loss of height, severe back pain, and deformity.

Prevention and Treatment

Because osteoporosis is difficult to reverse, prevention is the key. To ensure that you are getting enough calcium to build and maintain strong bones, you should eat plenty of calcium-rich foods, such as nonfat milk, low-fat yogurt, broccoli, cauliflower, salmon, tofu, and leafy green vegetables.

According to a panel convened by the National Institutes of Health, women who are still menstruating, or who are postmenopausal but taking hormone replacement therapy, should get 1,000 mg of calcium each day. This jumps to 1,200 to 1,500 mg per day for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Postmenopausal women not on hormone replacement therapy should get 1,500 mg/day.

Hormone replacement therapy is known to help preserve bone and prevent fractures, but is not generally recommended because the risks are thought to outweigh the benefits. There are however, a variety of new medications that help prevent bone loss and do not increase your risk for breast cancer. Some inhibit cells that break down bone and slow bone loss while others have been shown to increase bone strength and reduce fractures.

How do you test for osteoporosis

A bone densitometer, a safe and painless X-ray, is the most accurate method for determining bone mass. It is usually preformed on women during menopause. Talk to your doctor about scheduling a bone density scan at NCH.

To read more information about osteoporosis from the Health Information Library, click here.

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Last Updated 04/10/2009