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Osteoporosis Health Center

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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 -- is approved  for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis in women. The Woman’s Health Initiative Study agreed that while estrogen decreased fracture risk, it may be associated with slightly increased risks. Prempro, one type of combination hormone replacement therapy, was shown to increase risk  of breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke in some women. However, Premarin alone did not increase breast cancer risk. So while HRT is known to help preserve bone and prevent fractures in postmenopausal women, your doctor may want to consider other medications for primary treatment. Women should discuss HRT with their provider and compare the benefits and risks with other options before starting treatment for osteoporosis.

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.

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