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    Knowing and Treating Osteoporosis

    How Do I Know If I Have Osteoporosis?

    Osteoporosis is sometimes diagnosed incidentally after an X-ray has been taken for a fracture or an illness. If your health care provider suspects you have osteoporosis, he or she may measure you to check for a loss of height. The vertebrae are often the first bones affected, causing a loss in height of half an inch or more. Your health care provider may also recommend that your bone density be measured.

    Diagnostic tools more likely to catch osteoporosis at an early stage include various forms of a technique called absorptiometry, which is specifically designed to measure bone density. A relatively new diagnostic tool known as quantitative computerized tomography is also an accurate method of measuring bone density anywhere in the body, but it uses higher levels of radiation than the other methods. Some facilities are also equipped with specialized ultrasound machines that can detect early signs of osteoporosis.

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    In addition to these bone measurement tests, you may be asked to supply blood or urine samples for analysis so that specific diseases that cause osteoporosis can be identified.

    What Are the Treatments for Osteoporosis?

    Because osteoporosis is difficult to reverse, prevention is the best treatment.

    Calcium is the cornerstone of osteoporosis treatment. To help with the absorption of calcium, vitamin D supplements may need to be taken. A regular exercise program -- including weight-bearing exercises, such as walking and aerobics -- can help keep your bones strong and free of fractures.

    Menopausal hormone therapy -- either estrogen alone or a combination of estrogen and progestin -- can prevent and treat osteoporosis. 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.

    A landmark study called the Women's Health Initiative revealed that hormone therapy increases the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke in some women. Hormone therapy is known to help preserve bone and prevent fractures, but is not generally recommended at this point for osteoporosis because the risks are thought to outweigh the benefits.

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