Understanding Osteoporosis -- Diagnosis and Treatment
Understanding osteoporosis treatment is vital for everyone, particularly if you have risk factors for the disorder. Osteoporosis treatment includes a multifaceted regimen of diet, lifestyle habits, and osteoporosis medications in order to prevent further bone loss and fractures.
How Is Osteoporosis Diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects that 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 over time. Your doctor may also recommend that your bone density be measured. Although osteoporosis is sometimes diagnosed by accident after an X-ray has been taken for a fracture or an illness, the usefulness of an X-ray is limited for early screening of osteoporosis.
A bone density scan, also known as a DEXA scan, is the most common tool used to measure bone density and diagnose bone loss and osteoporosis at an early stage. Quantitative computerized tomography is also an accurate method of measuring bone density anywhere in the body, but it uses higher levels of radiation than other bone density tests. Ultrasound -- typically of the heel of your foot -- can also detect early signs of osteoporosis.
In addition to these bone density tests, you may be asked to supply blood or urine samples for analysis so that disease-related causes for the bone loss can be ruled out.
What Are the Treatments for Osteoporosis?
Because osteoporosis is difficult to reverse, prevention is the key to preventing painful and disfiguring fractures.
A diet high in calcium is the cornerstone of prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. To help with the absorption of the calcium, vitamin D supplements should also be taken. A regular exercise program -- including weight-bearing exercise, such as walking and aerobics -- can help keep bones strong and free of fractures.
Osteoporosis and Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) -- either estrogen alone or a combination of estrogen and progestin -- used to be prescribed for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. However, research has shown that hormone replacement therapy increases the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke in some women. So while HRT is known to help preserve bone and prevent fractures, it isn't generally recommended at this point for treating osteoporosis because the health risks are thought to outweigh the benefits.
In women who have been on menopausal hormone therapy in the past and then stopped taking it, the bones begin to thin again -- at the same pace as during menopause.
Medications for Osteoporosis
Evista. Evista is an osteoporosis treatment that has some actions similar to estrogen, such as the ability to maintain bone mass. However, studies have shown that Evista doesn't increase the risk of breast or uterine cancers like estrogen does. Evista often causes hot flashes and can increase the risk of getting blood clots.