Osteoporosis | Treatment

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How is osteoporosis treated?

Treatment for osteoporosis starts with changes to your diet and lifestyle. You want to take in more calcium. Your doctor will suggest ways to get more calcium through food, drink and possibly a calcium supplement. He or she will also suggest you take a vitamin D supplement, which helps your body process calcium.

Your doctor will want you to increase your physical activity, especially weight-bearing exercise. This helps increase bone density. Examples of weight-bearing exercise include walking, jogging and climbing steps.

Your doctor will also want you to stop smoking and avoid drinking too much alcohol. If you’re at risk for falls, reduce the likelihood of falls in your home by getting rid of tripping hazards (such as electrical cords and rugs) or slippery surfaces. You can also install grab bars in your shower or anywhere else in your home that you might need them.

How much calcium do I need?

Before menopause, you need about 1,000 mg of calcium per day. After menopause, you need 1,000 mg of calcium per day if you're taking estrogen and 1,500 mg of calcium per day if you're not taking estrogen. You should also aim for 800 international units (IU) of vitamin D each day to help your body absorb the calcium.

It’s usually best to try to get calcium from food. Nonfat and low-fat dairy products are good sources of calcium. Other sources of calcium include dried beans, pink salmon, spinach and broccoli.

If you don’t get enough calcium from the food you eat, your doctor may suggest taking a calcium supplement. Take it at meal time or with a sip of milk.

What medicines are available to treat osteoporosis?

Some medicines used to treat osteoporosis include the following:

Biophosphonates. These medicines help reduce the risk of breaks and fractures, as well as increase bone density in the hips and spine. They can be taken orally (in pill form) or intravenously (with an injection). Side effects include nausea, abdominal pain and irritation of the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach). People who cannot take biophosphonates include people who have kidney disease, low levels of calcium in their blood and women who are pregnant or nursing. Types of biophosphonates include:

  • Alendronate and risedronate. These medicines are used to help prevent and treat osteoporosis. They help reduce the risk of fractures by decreasing the rate of bone loss. They are taken orally in pill form. Their most common side effect is an upset stomach.
  • Ibandronate. This medicine helps to slow bone loss and increases bone density. It is available both as a pill or as an injection. If you take the pill, you have 2 options: a daily pill or a monthly pill (the pill you take each month has a greater dose of ibandronate than the pill you take daily). If you take the injection, your doctor or nurse will give you a shot every 3 months. Some of the possible side effects include lower back or side pain, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and bloody or cloudy urine.
  • Zoledronic acid. A bisphosphonate medication that is given intravenously every 12 months.

Calcitonin. This is a hormone that helps slow the breakdown of bone. It is available as an injection or nasal spray. Side effects include irritation of the lining of the nose and headache (with use of the nasal spray) and diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting (with use of the injection).

Raloxifene. This medicine is used to prevent and treat osteoporosis in women by increasing bone density. It is not a hormone, but it mimics some of the effects of estrogen. Side effects may include hot flashes and a risk of blood clots.

Teriparatide. This medicine is a synthetic form of parathyroid hormone and helps new bone to grow. It comes in an injectable form, and is injected once a day in the thigh or abdomen. It can be used in both women and men for the treatment of osteoporosis. Common side effects may include nausea, abdominal pain, headache, muscle weakness, fatigue and loss of appetite.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 05/14
Created: 01/96

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