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 But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date.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.

Information from Your Family Doctor



Am Fam Physician. 2009 Feb 1;79(3):201-202.

  See related article on osteoporosis.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis literally means bones (“osteo”) that are porous (“porosis”), or weak. When your body loses calcium, your bones become weak and are more likely to break.

How is it diagnosed?

A type of x-ray can measure the density, or strength, of your bones. This is usually done on the bones of your hip or lower spine.

Am I at risk?

Everyone’s bones become weaker as they get older, but some people’s bones get weaker sooner than others. Some people are more likely to get osteoporosis, such as older people, women with early menopause, inactive people, and people with a personal or family history of broken bones, thyroid disease, or steroid use.

If you have osteoporosis, you have a higher risk of fracture (breaking a bone) if you fall. Therefore, it is important to lower your risk of falling. You can do this by exercising, which improves strength and balance. You can also add handrails on stairs and in bathrooms, and remove loose rugs from your home.

What can I do to prevent osteoporosis?

Be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D. Your body needs vitamin D to help absorb and use the calcium. You can get calcium from dairy products (for example, cheese), vegetables (for example, broccoli), almonds, tofu, and drinks with added vitamins and minerals (for example, some orange juices, rice milk, and soy milk). Your body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. You can also get vitamin D from milk, some fish (for example, salmon), and drinks or cereals with added vitamins and minerals. If you do not get enough calcium or vitamin D, you should take a supplement.

Make sure you exercise (for example, walk, jog, hike, dance, or weight train) most days of the week. It is also important to quit smoking if you are a smoker and to avoid drinking a lot of alcohol.

How is it treated?

You should get at least 1,200 mg of calcium a day and at least 700 to 800 IU of vitamin D a day from supplements and your diet. You doctor may prescribe medicines called bisphosphonates (by-FOS-fonates), such as alendronate (one brand: Fosamax) and risedronate (one brand: Actonel). These medicines help decrease the risk of hip and spine fractures in women with osteoporosis. One bisphosphonate, ibandronate (one brand: Boniva), helps to decrease the risk of spine fractures.

Raloxifene (one brand: Evista) is another medicine that can help increase bone strength and lower the risk of spine fractures. Calcitonin (one brand: Miacalcin) is a nasal spray that decreases loss of both calcium and bone strength. It may also decrease spine fractures.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

American Academy of Family Physicians

Web site:

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

Web site:

Telephone: 1-800-624-2663

The National Osteoporosis Foundation

Web site:

Telephone: 1-800-231-4222

The National Women’s Health Information Center

Web site:

Telephone: 1-800–994–9662

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 © 2009 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.

Want to use this article elsewhere? Get Permissions

More in AFP

Editor's Collections


Oct 2021

Access the latest issue of American Family Physician

Read the Issue

Email Alerts

Don't miss a single issue. Sign up for the free AFP email table of contents.

Sign Up Now

Navigate this Article