I've been taking prednisone for my rheumatoid arthritis, but I've heard that it can increase my chances of developing osteoporosis. How big is the risk?

Answers from April Chang-Miller, M.D.

In general, the higher the dose of prednisone you take and the longer you take it, the greater the risk of osteoporosis.

Prednisone is a corticosteroid, a type of medication that's highly effective for treating inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis and many other conditions. Unfortunately, corticosteroids also can dramatically weaken bones and lead to osteoporosis.

To counter this risk, do weight-bearing exercise, avoid alcohol and do not smoke. Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements also can help reduce the amount of bone loss caused by steroids such as prednisone.

If you'll be taking prednisone for more than a few months and you have other risk factors for bone loss, your doctor may prescribe medications specifically designed to treat and prevent osteoporosis.

Mar. 01, 2014