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Does Osteoporosis Run in Your Family?

Adult woman hugging mother's neckIf one of your parents has had a broken bone, especially a broken hip, you may need to be screened earlier for osteoporosis. This is a medical condition where bones become weak and are more likely to break. Share your family health history with your doctor. Your doctor can help you take steps to strengthen weak bones and prevent broken bones.

How can osteoporosis affect my health?

People with osteoporosis are more likely to break bones, most often in the hip, forearm, wrist, and spine. While most broken bones are caused by falls, osteoporosis can weaken bones to the point that a break can occur more easily, for example by coughing or bumping into something. As you get older, you are more likely to have osteoporosis and recovering from a broken bone becomes harder. Broken bones can have lasting effects including pain that does not go away. Osteoporosis can cause the bones in the spine to break and begin to collapse, so that some people with it get shorter and are not able to stand up straight. Broken hips are especially serious—afterward, many people are not able to live on their own and are more likely to die sooner.

How can I find out if I have osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is more common in women. It affects about 25% (1 in 4) of women aged 65 and over and about 6% (1 in 17) of men aged 65 and over. Many people with osteoporosis do not know they have it until they break a bone. Screening is important to find these people before this happens, so they can take steps to decrease the effects of osteoporosis.

Currently, screening for osteoporosis is recommended for women who are 65 years old or older and for women who are 50 to 64 and have certain risk factors, which include having a parent who has broken a hip. You can use the FRAX Risk Assessment tool to learn if you should be screened. It uses several factors to determine how likely you are to have osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about osteoporosis.

Screening for osteoporosis is commonly done using a type of low level x-rays called dual/energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Screening also can show if you have low bone mass, meaning your bones are weaker than normal, and are likely to develop osteoporosis.

How can I improve my bone health if I have osteoporosis?

There are steps you can take to improve your bone health and strengthen weak bones:

  • Take medications to strengthen your bones and avoid medications that can make your bones weaker
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D
  • Perform weight-bearing exercises regularly
  • Do not smoke
  • Limit alcohol use

Don't wait until you have a broken bone to take steps to improve your bone health—you can start at any age! You can also take steps to prevent falls, including doing exercises to improve your leg strength and balance, having your eyes checked, and making your home safer.

  • Page last reviewed: May 16, 2016
  • Page last updated: May 16, 2016
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