Osteoporosis (which means "porous bone") is a disease of the bones that occurs when you lose too much bone, make too little bone, or both. As a result, your bones become weak or brittle. You may break a bone even from a minor fall. It is often called silent disease because you can't feel your bones getting weaker. Breaking up bone is often the first sign that you have osteoporosis. Osteoporosis also causes some people to lose height. Approximately 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone mass (osteopenia), which places people at increased risk for developing osteoporosis.
Just being female puts you at risk for developing osteoporosis and broken bones because women tend to have smaller, thinner bones than men. Also, women of certain ethnic backgrounds (especially Caucasian and Asian) and age (older, postmenopausal women) are additional risk factors. Estrogen, a hormone produced by premenopausal women that protects bones, decreases sharply when women reach menopause. So this is why the chance of developing osteoporosis increases as women reach menopause. In the 5-7 years following menopause, in a woman can lose up to 20% of her bone density.
What to do? The recipe for bone health is simple:
- Avoid smoking and alcohol intake
- Exercise, especially weight-bearing exercise and muscle strengthening exercise
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D
- Eat a well-balanced diet
The amount of calcium you need every day depends on her age and gender. Food is the best source of calcium. Such examples include: Dairy products (low-fat and nonfat milk), yogurt, cheese, certain green vegetables, and some juices. Aim to get the recommended daily amount of calcium from foods and use a supplement if needed to make up for any short fall. Calcium supplements are available without a prescription in a wide range of preparations (including chewable and liquid) and in different amounts.
A bone density test is the only test that can diagnose osteoporosis before a broken bone occurs. This test helps to estimate the density of your bones and your chance of breaking a bone. There are certain guidelines and recommendations for who should have a bone density test. The results of a bone density test enable your health care provider to make recommendations about what you can do to reduce your chance of breaking a bone.
There are two categories of medications to treat osteoporosis: 1) anti-resorptive medications that slow bone loss and 2) anabolic medications that increased the rate of bone formation. You and your health care provider can discuss which choice is best for you.
For more information, you can visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) website: www.nof.org.
Written by Susan James, DO