William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Catherine Burt Driver, MD
Catherine Burt Driver, MD, is board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Dr. Driver is a member of the American College of Rheumatology. She currently is in active practice in the field of rheumatology in Mission Viejo, Calif., where she is a partner in Mission Internal Medical Group.
In this Article
- Osteoporosis facts
- What is osteoporosis?
- What are osteoporosis symptoms and signs?
- What are the consequences of osteoporosis?
- Why is osteoporosis an important public-health issue?
- What factors determine bone strength?
- What are osteoporosis risk factors and causes?
- How is osteoporosis diagnosed?
- Who should have bone density testing?
- What is the treatment for osteoporosis, and can osteoporosis be prevented?
- Exercise, quitting cigarettes, and curtailing alcohol
- Calcium supplements
- Vitamin D
- Hormone therapy (menopausal hormone therapy)
- Medications that prevent bone loss and breakdown
- Choosing an osteoporosis medication
- Prevention of osteoporosis due to long-term corticosteroids
- Monitoring osteoporosis therapy
- Prevention of hip fractures in elderly people with osteoporosis
- What are complications of osteoporosis?
- What is the prognosis (outlook) for patients with osteoporosis?
- Osteoporosis FAQs
- Find a local Internist in your town
An adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D are important foundations for maintaining bone density and strength. However, calcium and vitamin D alone are not sufficient to treat osteoporosis and should be given in conjunction with other treatments. Vitamin D is important in several respects:
- Vitamin D helps the absorption of dietary calcium from the intestines.
- The lack of vitamin D alone can cause calcium-depleted bone (osteomalacia), which further weakens the bones and increases the risk of fractures.
- Vitamin D, along with adequate calcium (1,200 mg of elemental calcium), has been shown in some studies to increase bone density and decrease fractures in postmenopausal women but not in premenopausal or perimenopausal women.
Vitamin D comes from the diet and the skin. Vitamin D production by the skin is dependent on exposure to sunlight. Active people living in sunny regions (Southern California, Hawaii, countries around the equator, etc.) can produce most of the vitamin D they need in their skin. Conversely, lack of exposure to sunlight, due to residence in northern latitudes or physical incapacitation, causes vitamin D deficiency. In less temperate regions such as Minnesota, Michigan, and New York, production of vitamin D by the skin is markedly diminished in the winter months, especially among the elderly. In that population, dietary vitamin D becomes more important.
Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency is quite common in the U.S. In a study in a general medical ward of one hospital, vitamin D deficiency was detected in 57% of the patients. An estimated 50% of elderly women consume far less vitamin D in their diet than is recommended.
The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine has recommended the following as an adequate vitamin D intake:
- 800 IU/day for men and women over the age of 71
- 600 IU/day for women in other age groups, men, and children
- 400 IU/day for infants under 12 months
But if a person already has osteoporosis, it is advisable to ensure 400 IU twice per day as the usual daily intake, most commonly as a supplement alongside prescribed medications for osteoporosis.
An average multivitamin tablet contains 400 IU of vitamin D. Therefore, one to two multivitamins a day should provide the recommended amount of vitamin D. Alternatively, vitamin D can be obtained in combination with calcium in tablet forms, such as Caltrate 600 + D (600 mg of calcium and 200 IU of vitamin D) and others.
Adequate levels of calcium and vitamin D are essential for optimal bone health, especially when used with prescribed medication for osteoporosis. Chronic excessive use of vitamin D can lead to toxic levels of vitamin D, elevated calcium levels in blood and urine, and may also cause kidney stones. Since various dietary supplements may also contain vitamin D, it is important to review vitamin D content in dietary supplements before taking additional vitamin D.
Hormone therapy (menopausal hormone therapy)
Estrogen hormone therapy after menopause (previously referred to as hormone replacement therapy or HRT) has been shown to prevent bone loss, increase bone density, and prevent bone fractures. It is useful in preventing osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Estrogen is available orally (Premarin, Estrace, Estratest, and others) or as a skin patch (Estraderm, Vivelle, and others).
Estrogen also is available in combination with progesterone as pills and patches. Progesterone is routinely given along with estrogen to prevent uterine cancer that might result from estrogen use alone. Women who have had a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) may take estrogen alone since they no longer have a uterus to become cancerous. Nasally delivered estrogen and lower-dose combination pills of estrogen and progesterone are also being studied. However, due to adverse effects of HRT, such as increased risks of heart attack, stroke, blood clots in the veins, and breast cancer; HRT is no longer recommended for long-term use in the therapy of osteoporosis. Rather, HRT is used short term to relieve menopausal hot flashes.
Every woman needs to have an individualized discussion regarding HRT with her doctor because each woman will place different weight on the risks and benefits of the treatment.
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