May is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month, which makes this a good time to learn more about this bone disease, which affects approximately 10 million Americans, according to the Office on Women's Health.
Your bones are living tissue that is constantly being broken down and replaced. Osteoporosis occurs when the creation of new bone doesn't keep up with the loss of old bone, causing bones to become weak and brittle — so brittle that a fall or even mild stresses, such as bending over or coughing, can cause a fracture.
Treatment recommendations often are based on an estimate of your risk of breaking a bone in the next 10 years. This estimate uses information such as the result of a bone density test. If your risk isn't high, treatment might not include medication. Rather, treatment may focus on modifying risk factors for bone loss and falls.
If you are at increased risk of fracture, your health care provider may suggest treatment with medication. Most osteoporosis medications work by slowing the rate at which your bones break down. Some work by speeding up the bone-building process. Either mechanism strengthens bone and reduces your risk of fractures.
However, certain types of osteoporosis drugs have been associated with an increased risk of two rare but serious bone problems in the jaw and upper thigh. And the risk appears to increase with the length of time the drugs are taken.