Osteoporosis (Bone Loss)

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Osteoporosis happens when your bone mass and bone density are below normal. If you have osteoporosis, you have a higher risk of breaking a bone. The most common places for a bone to break are the spine, wrist, and hip, but just about any bone can break since osteoporosis affects most of your skeleton.

Anyone can get osteoporosis or have bone loss, but it's most common in older women. After menopause, women have less estrogen in their bodies and that can cause bone loss. If breast cancer treatment has caused you to go through menopause early, you may be at risk for osteoporosis/bone loss at a younger age.

Risk factors for osteoporosis and bone loss include:

  • getting older
  • being small and thin
  • a family history of osteoporosis
  • having low bone mass (osteopenia)

Certain breast cancer treatments can contribute to osteoporosis and bone loss:

Managing osteoporosis/bone loss

A DEXA scan (an x-ray scan of your bones) measures your bone density. If you have a family history of osteoporosis or are having any of the treatments that contribute to bone loss, talk to your doctor about a DEXA scan to get a baseline measure of your bone density. If it's lower than normal or declines while you're in treatment, there are medications called bisphosphonates you can take to strengthen your bones. Three different bisphosphonates are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prevent and treat osteoporosis:

  • Fosamax (chemical name: alendronate sodium)
  • Actonel (chemical name: risedronate)
  • Boniva (chemical name: ibandronate)

Fosamax and Actonel are available as daily or weekly doses. Boniva can be taken once a month or injected once every 3 months. Together, you and your doctor can decide if one of these medicines is right for you.

There are also lifestyle changes you can make to keep your bones as strong as they can be:

Get enough calcium. People older than 50 should get 1,200 milligrams of calcium each day. Make foods that are high calcium part of your diet:

  • dairy products such as low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • calcium-fortified orange juice
  • dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, collard greens, and bok choy
  • tofu
  • almonds
  • vitamin-fortified cereal

You also can take a calcium supplement.

Get enough vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Your body makes vitamin D when you're in sunlight, but if you're indoors most of the time or live in areas where sunlight is limited, add foods rich in vitamin D to your diet:

  • vitamin D-fortified milk
  • herring, salmon, and tuna
  • vitamin-fortified cereal

You also can take a multi-vitamin.

Do weight-bearing exercise. Exercise makes your bones and muscles stronger and helps slow bone loss. Do weight-bearing exercise 3-4 times a week for maximum bone health benefits:

  • walking
  • jogging
  • playing tennis, racquetball, or squash
  • dancing
  • lifting weights

Learn more about osteoporosis and how to strengthen your bones in the Bone Health section.

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