Prevention. Diagnosis. Treatment.

The National Institute of Health estimates that more than 40 million people in the U.S. either have osteoporosis or are at high risk for having it.

People most often become aware they have osteoporosis when a minor injury, such as a fall, causes a fracture. Fractures have the potential to be painful and can drastically affect you and your lifestyle.

People are often surprised to learn that more than 40% of women over 50 will experience an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime. It's important to know, however, that osteoporosis is not a natural part of aging. It has been described as a geriatric disease with an adolescent onset, highlighting the importance of beginning to take steps - in exercise and diet - early in life to reduce its disabling impact in later years.

How Do I know if I have Osteoporosis?

One of the best ways to determine if you have osteoporosis is through a bone mineral density (BMD) exam. The gold standard to measure BMD is through a quick, easy procedure known as a dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA or DXA) evaluation.

The DEXA evaluation is one of the most recommended ways for a physician to measure bone density. The exam is easy, painless, and only takes about 20 minutes.

A DEXA scan measures bone density at various places in the body, such as the spine and hip, and does not require special preparation, medications or injections. DEXA uses a very weak form of X-ray (a small fraction of the radiation of a standard chest X-ray) to rapidly scan your bones. A computer then converts this information to numbers indicating your bone density.

Ask your Doctor if You Need a DEXA

Talk with your physician to find out if having a DEXA scan is right for you. Typically, testing for osteoporosis is recommended for women over the age of 65 and men over the age of 70.

What if I Have Osteoporosis?

The good news is that your physician can help you treat osteoporosis so that a fracture is less likely to affect your life.

You can change dietary and lifestyle behaviors to help improve your bone health, including taking calcium and vitamin D and exercising. Your physician can discuss these options with you. In addition several prescription medications are now available that can help prevent and treat osteoporosis and related fractures. Your physician can use the results of your bone density evaluation to help develop a treatment plan that best meets your needs.

Reducing Your Risk

Many factors can affect your chances of developing osteoporosis. The good news is that you control some of them. Even though you can't change your genes, you can still lower your risk with attention to certain lifestyle changes that will help build and maintain bone mass. The younger you start, and the longer you keep it up, the better.

Here's what You can do for Yourself

- Be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D.

- Engage in regular physical activity, especially weight-bearing exercises.

- Don't smoke, and if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.

Other Factors are Beyond your Control

Being aware of these factors can provide extra motivation and can help you and your doctor to make health care decisions. These risk factors are:

- Being female - women are at five times greater risk than men.

- Thin, small-boned frame

- Broken bones or stooped posture in older family members, suggesting family history of osteoporosis

- Early estrogen deficiency in women who experience menopause before age 45

- Estrogen deficiency due to abnormal absence of menstruation (as may accompany eating disorders)

- Ethnic heritage - white and Asian women are at highest risk.

- Advanced age

- Prolonged use of some medications - It is important to discuss the use of certain drugs with your physician, and not to stop or alter your medication dose on your own.

- Growth hormone deficiency in children and adolescents