When Betty Bullock was diagnosed with osteoporosis in 1997, at the age of 66, it was a shock. She’d always been healthy and active, an avid athlete who plays tennis, swims, walks her dogs, and dances.
“I was thinking, ‘What did I do wrong?’” says the 76-year-old great-grandmother, who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. “I had assumed I didn’t have to worry about osteoporosis since I was so healthy and my mother had never had it.”
Cutting that risk is crucial. About half of women and a quarter of men over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture, notes the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Fractures most often affect the hip, spine, and wrist, but can affect any bone.
Often, the first question patients ask their doctors is, Can I reverse osteoporosis?
Here, bone health experts answer that and other osteoporosis questions.
1. Can You Reverse Osteoporosis?
Not exactly. But you may be able to curb it.
''Realistically, we are not talking about complete reversal," says Felicia Cosman, MD, clinical director of the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) and medical director at the Clinical Research Center of New York's Helen Hayes Hospital.
"A realistic goal is to prevent fractures from occurring," says Cosman, who researches osteoporosis treatments and has consulted and spoken for the drug companies Eli Lilly, Novartis, Merck, and Amgen, which make osteoporosis drugs.
2. So What Can I Do About Osteoporosis?
You can make fractures less likely by maintaining or improving your bone density, Cosman says.
That is, "you can reverse theconsequences of osteoporosis," says Robert Heaney, MD, vice president for research and professor of medicine at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. A bone biologist, Heaney has spoken for Merck and Amgen.
Doing that typically involves being active, getting enough calcium and vitamin D, and taking osteoporosis drugs.
3. What Will Osteoporosis Drugs Do for Me?
Depending on the state of your bones, "you can build some bone and get out of the osteoporosis range with drug therapy," says Jeri Nieves, PhD, a Columbia University associate professor of clinical epidemiology.
"You can slow down the bone loss, [but] it's not the same as reversing it," says Nieves, who also works at New York's Helen Hayes Hospital.