Although osteoporosis cannot be reversed, it can be prevented and treated in a variety of ways.
There's calcium and vitamin D, both key to bone health. Exercise is another critical part of strengthening bone mass. There are drugs on the market that slow bone loss and even hold promise of building new bone.
It is important to identify the symptoms of spinal compression fractures and notify your doctor right away. Sudden, severe back pain, especially in older women, may signal a spinal compression fracture or another serious condition.
Anyone with significant back pain -- especially a woman who is near or over age 50 -- should see a doctor. Most compression fractures in women over 50 are due to osteoporosis and treatment can help reduce the chance of further compression fractures.
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Actonel, Binosto, Boniva, and Fosamax (also available as generic) work by inhibiting cells that break down bone and slowing bone loss. Actonel, Binosto, and Fosamax are usually taken once a week, while Boniva is taken once a month. There are strict ways to take these medications, since if taken incorrectly, they can lead to ulcers in the esophagus.
Another new osteoporosis medication of the same class is Reclast, which is given as a once-yearly 15-minute infusion in a vein. Reclast is said to increase bone strength and reduce fractures in the hip, spine and wrist, arm, leg, or rib.
Evista is an osteoporosis drug that has some actions similar to estrogen, such as the ability to maintain bone mass. However, studies have shown that it doesn't increase the risk of breast or uterine cancers like estrogen. Evista can cause blood clots and often increases hot flashes.
Forteo is a new medication used for the treatment of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women and men who are at high risk for a fracture. A synthetic form of the naturally occurring parathyroid hormone, Forteo is the first drug shown to stimulate new bone formation and increase bone mineral density. It is self-administered as a daily injection for up to 24 months. Side effects include nausea, leg cramps, and dizziness.
Fortical and Miacalcin (also available as generic) are other treatment options for osteoporosis. The active ingredient in these medications is calcitonin, a naturally occurring hormone that slows bone loss. It is available as a nasal spray or injection. Undesirable side effects include nausea and skin rashes.
Prolia is a so-called monoclonal antibody -- a fully human, lab-produced antibody that inactivates the body's bone-breakdown mechanism. It's the first "biologic therapy" to be approved for osteoporosis treatment. Prolia is approved for postmenopausal women with osteoporosis and high risk of fracture, and when other osteoporosis medicines have not worked.
Menopausal hormone replacement therapy -- either estrogen alone or a combination of estrogen and progestin -- is known to help preserve bone and prevent fractures. However, HRT is no longer prescribed for osteoporosis alone because of other health risks long-term hormone therapy poses. In women who have been on hormone replacement therapy in the past and then stopped it, the bone begins to thin again -- at the same pace as during menopause.
Osteoporosis Prevention Through Nutrition and Diet
To ensure that people are getting enough calcium to build and maintain strong bones, doctors recommend eating plenty of calcium-rich foods, such as nonfat milk, low-fat yogurt, broccoli, cauliflower, salmon, tofu, and leafy green vegetables.