Osteoporosis is a condition most people associate with older women. While it’s true that the signs of osteoporosis typically appear during retirement years, the disease actually starts much earlier. Keeping bones strong and healthy should start when you are as young as your 20s and continue for the rest of your life.
Here’s what adults should know about osteoporosis, including risk factors, screening, and treatment.
What is Osteoporosis?
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis is a “bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone, makes too little bone, or both.” The disease interrupts the body’s ability to create new bone tissue. Bones become brittle and weak, making the senior more susceptible to fractures from even a minor bump or injury.
Risk factors for osteoporosis include the following:
- Low body weight
- Being female
- Side effect of some medications
- Poor diet
Because there often aren’t any warning signs, an older adult might not realize they have the disease until they experience a fracture.
Screening for and Treating Osteoporosis
Most physicians recommend that postmenopausal women and men aged 50 and over have a bone density test to measure bone mass. This can help diagnose the problem early, hopefully in time for interventions to slow the progression of bone loss.
A DEXA scan is a non-invasive test that allows a radiologist to look inside the body (usually the hips and lower spine) to measure for bone loss. If bone loss is detected, your physician may recommend lifestyle changes and possibly even medication.
Most osteoporosis medications work by slowing bone breakdown. In a healthy adult, the body is continuously breaking down old bone tissue and replacing it. When a person has osteoporosis, however, the body isn’t able to create new bone tissue. So the goal of the medication is to decrease the speed at which existing bones break down.
Common osteoporosis medications are Alendronate (Fosamax), Risedronate (Actonel), Ibandronate (Boniva), and Zoledronic acid (Reclast). There are also a few newer osteoporosis medications used to treat older adults:
- Denosumab (Prolia, Xgeva): Denosumab helps lower the risk of fractures in both women and men. It is often prescribed for adults who have decreased kidney function.
- Teriparatide (Forteo): This is usually prescribed for men and postmenopausal women who have already experienced fractures due to very low bone density. Those whose osteoporosis is caused by steroid use may also be prescribed teriparatide.
- Abaloparatide (Tymlos): Similar to teriparatide in that it has been shown to rebuild bone, abaloparatide seems to be as effective as teriparatide during clinical trials and less likely to cause excess calcium to build up.
While men can develop osteoporosis, women are at greater risk. You can learn more about protecting your bones as you grow older by reading our article, “Bone Health & Older Women: How to Stay Strong.”