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.
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.
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 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.
Forteo is a 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.
Prolia is a 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. The drug Duavee (estrogen and bazedoxifene) is a type of HRT approved to treat menopause-related hot flashes. Duavee may also prevent osteoporosis in high-risk women who have already tried non-estrogen treatment.
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.