The outlook for osteoporosis mainly depends on how early someone seeks treatment and whether they continue with it. Treatment can slow or stop bone loss, keeping bones stronger for longer.

Osteoporosis is not a terminal illness, but it does tend to worsen with time, especially without treatment. The condition does not directly influence life expectancy, though people who experience fractures from osteoporosis may have a shorter life span. Osteoporosis may also worsen the outlook of other diagnoses.

With treatment, a person can avoid fractures, pain, and disability. Read on to learn more about the outlook for osteoporosis.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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With treatment, the outlook for osteoporosis is generally good. Treatment can slow or even reverse bone loss.

However, the extent to which osteoporosis drugs can prevent fractures remains a subject of scientific debate. While white and Asian people have a higher risk of osteoporosis than other groups, Black people have a similar fracture risk to white people if they develop the condition. It is unclear why this is.

All people steadily lose bone mineral density with age. Therefore, without treatment, osteoporosis tends to steadily worsen.

Similarly, if treatment begins after a fracture or a doctor detects the disease only after a person has lost significant bone, the outlook is less favorable. Having fractures also worsens the outlook.

The most important factor affecting someone’s outlook for osteoporosis is whether they seek treatment and how early in the disease they do so.

Medications known as bisphosphonates can greatly improve the outlook, but they may be too expensive for some people, difficult to access, or cause too many side effects.

Some other factors that may influence outlook include:

  • Sex: Females tend to lose bone mineral density faster than males, which is one reason they have higher rates of osteoporosis. A 2017 paper reports that, while women are more likely to develop osteoporosis, men may be more likely to develop complications after a fracture.
  • Fall risk factors: A person with more fall risk factors, such as frequently climbing stairs, may have a higher risk of fractures and complications from osteoporosis.
  • Lifestyle: Lifestyle measures, such as strength training exercises and calcium and supplements, may improve outlook. Without these measures, an individual may have a less favorable outlook.
  • Previous fractures: The outlook for osteoporosis worsens if a person has a prior history of fractures or if a doctor only discovers osteoporosis after a fracture.
  • Comorbidities: A 2023 study found a worse outlook in people with osteoporosis who develop bronchiectasis, a type of infection in the bronchi. Additionally, some conditions may make it more challenging to implement lifestyle changes for osteoporosis. For instance, individuals with severe arthritis may have more difficulty doing strength training.

Most people with the condition have a close-to-typical life expectancy.

An older 2015 study looked at a large Danish cohort with osteoporosis, comparing them with individuals of a similar age and sex. Researchers found that:

  • In men younger than 80 and women younger than 60, the risk of dying increased significantly immediately after diagnosis but then significantly declined.
  • A 50-year-old man beginning osteoporosis treatment had an average life expectancy of 18.2 years, while a man age 75 had an expectancy of 7.5 years.
  • A 50-year-old woman beginning osteoporosis treatment had a 26.4-year life expectancy, while at 75, the figure was 13.5 years.

Osteoporosis can also influence life expectancy indirectly.

Osteoporosis is not directly fatal, and it is not a terminal illness. However, it may lead to significant pain, weakness, and disability if a person experiences fractures.

Fractures can also indirectly increase the risk of death. According to a 2019 study, older people with hip fractures are three to four times more likely than people in the general population to die within a year of surgery.

There are many reasons for this. Fractures may:

  • lead to another injury, such as if a person with a hip fracture falls for a second time
  • require surgery, which increases the risk of infections and other complications
  • lead to additional conditions — some vertebral fractures, for example, increase the risk of pneumonia or difficulty breathing.

People can increase their chances of living a longer and healthier life by taking measures to improve their bone health and generally looking after their overall well-being.

Some strategies that may improve outcomes for osteoporosis include:

  • Getting adequate nutrition: Getting enough vitamins, minerals, and protein is important for bone strength, particularly vitamin D and calcium. If it is difficult to get enough of these nutrients from food or sunlight, a person can ask a doctor about supplements.
  • Exercising: Keep up physical activity. Strength training is especially important for strengthening bones and muscles. Consider physical or exercise therapy if a person has mobility impairments.
  • Reducing the risk of falls: Changes to the home or workplace, such as grab bars in the shower and a sturdy railing along the staircase, can help reduce fracture risk. Similarly, people with osteoporosis may need to avoid certain movements. For example, a person with spine osteoporosis may need to avoid suddenly twisting the spine, such as when swinging a golf club.

Medication and lifestyle changes may slow bone loss. In some cases, they can stop it altogether, and some drugs can even reverse it.

The right treatment depends on a person’s needs and overall health. A person can discuss with a doctor which medication or combination of medications is right for them.

With treatment, the outlook for osteoporosis can be favorable. Early diagnosis and treatment can mean a person stops losing as much bone density as they age, and in some cases, may even reverse bone loss to an extent.

However, without intervention, osteoporosis will worsen. The right treatment, coupled with lifestyle changes, can improve outcomes. People concerned about their bone health can speak with a doctor about screening.