Managing Osteoporosis
What do you need to know to keep your bones healthy and strong? Here are some answers to questions you might be asking yourself:

What's So Dangerous About Thinning Bones?

Having osteoporosis - a disease in which bones become fragile - greatly increases your risk for fractures. One in two women older than 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in her lifetime, which can be extremely debilitating. Only 15 percent of hip fracture patients can walk across a room without a cane, walker or some sort of help six months after the incident, and about 24 percent age 50 and older die in the following year.

Young Women Don't Have to Worry, Right?

Not exactly. Your risk of osteoporosis does increase with age, which is why the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that every woman age 65 or older get her bone density tested. But if you're especially thin, a smoker, have broken a bone as an adult (not related to a major accident), or have a family history of fractures or osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about getting checked sooner.

The gold standard screening is a DXA scan, which uses noninvasive X-rays to measure your bone mineral density in less than 15 minutes. Your results are called a T-score, and the higher the number the better: -2.5 or lower means you have osteoporosis; -1 to -2.5 means you may have osteopenia, a precursor to the disease.

When Are Drugs Necessary?

If you have osteopenia and no family history of the condition, you may be able to try lifestyle changes first. Make sure you're getting 1,000 mg of calcium from food and/or supplements as well as 400 to 800 IU of vitamin D daily (if you're older than 50, aim for 1,200 mg of calcium and 800 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D). Exercise is important, too. Walking or jogging three times a week and strength training twice a week can really help.

If you have full-fledged osteoporosis, your doctor will probably prescribe bisphosphonates (like Fosamax or Boniva), which help slow bone loss, or a hormonal treatment (like Evista, which also reduces the risk of breast cancer). If your case is severe, a drug like Forteo, which builds new bone, may be beneficial. Keep in mind that you should get your bone mass rechecked periodically and your treatment may change based on the results.

Did You Know?

Using resistance bands or free weights can help strengthen bones.

Some medications (like certain depression, acid reflux and diabetes drugs) can hurt your bone density.

Once you have a T-score, you can ask your doctor to estimate your 10-year fracture risk (using FRAX, a statistical tool).