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Osteoporosis is a metabolic bone disorder in which bone tissue breaks down, making bone become increasingly fragile, leading to an increasing risk of fracture. It is a “silent disease,” since there are no warning signs or symptoms until fractures occur. In the United States alone, an estimated 1.5 million fractures each year are attributed to low bone density. The risks of osteoporosis are not relegated exclusively to women – males represent 20% of all cases. Osteoporosis (and osteopenia, which refers to low bone density in general), can affect people of all ages.

What causes osteoporosis?

Bone loss in adolescence and early adulthood can be a result of a failure to attain peak bone mineral density, and accelerated bone loss may be particularly noted around menopause and in later years. Many factors, including diet and the lack of proper exercise, contribute to bone loss during these periods. It can also occur as a result of numerous underlying conditions, many of which are often not readily apparent during the course of a doctor visit.

Therefore, laboratory testing, including serum and urine studies, is helpful in discerning its secondary causes

How to prevent osteoporosis

Many studies have shown that calcium and vitamin D is an essential nutrient for bone health. Every day, approximately 10,000 milligrams of calcium move in and out of the skeleton to renew and repair the bone. The amount of calcium that individuals need varies, but adults typically require about 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams daily. Though food remains the best source of calcium, some people may need additional calcium in the form of supplements.

Also crucial for good bone health is:

  • exercise - weight bearing and resistance exercises help build bone and maintain healthy bone
  • fall prevention - good balance and removing potential dangers around the house
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • quiting or avoiding smoking tobacco
  • limit alcohol intake - two drinks a day increases the risk of fracture

How to diagnose and treat osteoporosis

A DXA bone mineral density test will help your doctor determine whether or not you have osteoporosis. In addition, a blood and urine test will rule out underlying conditions and medical concerns.

Along with continuing the lifestyle involved in preventing osteoporosis such as healthy eating, calcium and vitamin D supplements and limiting risky behavior, your doctor might suggest special medications to increase bone mineral density. The most important goal is to lower risk of fracture. If needed, your doctor will explain the risks and benefits of the various medications offered and work with you on deciding what's best.

For more information, contact the Osteoporosis and Metabolic Bone Health Center at HSS, which was founded to help prevent and treat osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis overview articles

Learn more about osteoporosis in the articles below.

Osteoporosis prevention articles

The below articles provide information on ways that diet, nutrition, excercise and more may help you avoid getting osteoporosis as you age.

Osteoporosis treatment articles

Learn about medical and nonmedical methods to halt and reverse bone loss, and reduce the risk of fractures (broken bones) as you grow older.

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Osteoporosis articles for medical professionals

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