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Osteoporosis Medications: How They Work

From the latest medications to daily supplements -- what's your osteoporosis medication doing for you?
By
WebMD Feature

Think your bones stopped growing by the time you finished high school? Think again. Bones constantly remodel themselves throughout life, growing here, thinning there.

In osteoporosis, though, normal bone remodeling goes awry. Bone loss exceeds bone growth, and bones become thin and weak. Osteoporosis affects 10 million Americans, leading to 1.5 million fractures every year.

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Osteoporosis Pain

Osteoporosis is often called the "silent disease," because most of the time, bone loss occurs without any symptoms at all. But when osteoporosis becomes severe, it can lead to fractures and a condition called kyphosis. Kyphosis is a deformity resulting from spinal compression fractures, sometimes described as the "dowager's hump." Both fractures and kyphosis can be very painful. This pain is usually more severe than the typical "aches and pains" many people feel as they get older.

Read the Osteoporosis Pain article > >

Osteoporosis medications and physical activity can tip the balance of bone remodeling, preserving bone strength. How does bone remodeling work? What can be done to slow down or reverse bone loss? Read on to learn what you can do to keep your bones healthy and strong.

Bone Remodeling: A Never-Ending Improvement Project

"People think bones are static, but in fact bone is constantly growing and being resorbed," says Mary Zoe Baker, MD, an endocrinologist and professor of medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. "It has to, in order to heal damage and microfractures" that occur with normal wear and tear, says Baker.

The process of bone remodeling is a give-and-take between two opposing forces, replacing old bone with new bone.

  • Bone loss (resorption): Special cells called osteoclasts break down bone. They are like a demolition crew. When the signal comes, osteoclasts are recruited to enter the bones and secrete enzymes that break down collagen and minerals. Somehow, they know just when to stop to avoid damaging the bone.
  • Bone growth:Special cells called osteoblasts line the surface of bones. In response to signals in the blood, the osteoblasts get to work. They lay down bone, by depositing calcium and phosphate crystals on a scaffolding of collagen.

In healthy bone, the processes of growth and resorption are equalized. Various hormones, including estrogen in women, help keep this balance.

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