Osteoporosis is a disease that makes your bones weak. People with the disease can break their bones too easily. For instance, people with osteoporosis sometimes break a bone after falling down at home.
Breaking a bone can be serious, especially if the bone is in the hip. People who break a hip sometimes lose the ability to walk on their own. Many of them need care in a nursing home. That’s why it is so important to avoid breaking a bone in the first place.

Osteoporosis does not cause symptoms until you break a bone. But your doctor or nurse can have you tested for it. The best test is a bone density test called the “DXA test.” It is a special kind of X-ray.

Experts recommend bone density testing for females older than 65. That is because people in this group have the highest risk of osteoporosis. Still, other people should sometimes be tested, too. Ask your doctor or nurse if you should be tested.

Some people learn that they have osteoporosis because they break a bone during a fall or a mild impact. This is called a “fragility fracture,” because people with healthy bones should not break a bone that easily. People who have fragility fractures are at high risk of having other bones break.

You can:

  • Eat foods with a lot of calcium, such as milk, yogurt, and green leafy vegetables (table 1 and figure 1)
  • Eat foods with a lot of vitamin D, such as milk that has vitamin D added, and fish from the ocean
  • Take calcium and vitamin D pills (if you do not get enough from the food that you eat)
  • Be active for at least 30 minutes, most days of the week
  • Avoid smoking
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink to 1 to 2 drinks a day at most

It sounds simple, but you can prevent a lot of fractures by reducing the chances of a fall. To do that:

  • Make sure all your rugs have a no-slip backing to keep them in place
  • Tuck away any electrical cords, so they are not in your way
  • Light all walkways well
  • Watch out for slippery floors
  • Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes with rubber soles
  • Have your eyes checked
  • Ask your doctor or nurse to check whether any of your medicines might make you dizzy or increase your risk of falling

Yes, there are a few medicines to treat osteoporosis. These medicines can reduce the chances that you will break a bone.

Doctors and nurses usually suggest trying medicines called bisphosphonates first. If those medicines do not do enough or if they cause side effects that you cannot stand, there are other medicines to try.

Doctors and nurses often order bone density tests to check if osteoporosis medicines are working. These are the same tests they use to find osteoporosis in the first place. Sometimes a blood or urine test is also needed.