Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

What You Should Know About Osteoporosis


Am Fam Physician. 2001 Mar 1;63(5):908.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is weak bones.

Who gets osteoporosis?

Many more women get osteoporosis than men. Women who have low estrogen levels are especially at risk. You may have low estrogen levels:

  • During menopause

  • If you've had surgery to remove your female organs

  • If your menstrual cycles have stopped early (before age 45)

Elderly men and men who take certain medicines can also get osteoporosis.

What are the effects of osteoporosis?

Your bones will break easily after even a minor fall.

How does my doctor know I have osteoporosis?

Sometimes osteoporisis is found on x-rays. Tests can measure your bone mineral density.

What are the risk factors for osteoporosis?

  • Old age

  • Menopause before age 45

  • Fair skin (white or Asian)

  • Female

  • Sedentary lifestyle (immobile because of illness or wheelchair-bound)

  • Small frame

  • Alcohol abuse

  • Chronic medications

  • Chronic steroid use

  • Smoking history

  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)

  • Kidney disease

  • A family member had osteoporosis

How is osteoporosis treated?

Treatment can keep osteoporosis from getting worse and can sometimes increase bone strength

Getting calcium (1,500 mg daily) and vitamin D (400 IU daily) in your diet or through supplements is important. Also, your doctor may provide the following treatments:

  • Estrogen replacement therapy

  • Bisphosphonates

  • Selective estrogen receptor modulators

  • Fluoride

How is osteoporosis prevented?

It is best to prevent osteoporisis in the first place. It is harder to build bone than it is to keep from losing it.

  • Get regular weight-bearing exercise (such as walking or jogging)

  • Take calcium and vitamin D

  • Keep a healthy estrogen level (in women)

  • Eat a balanced diet

  • Don't use tobacco and alcohol

  • Only take steroids if your doctor prescribes them

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2001 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

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