So what is osteoporosis? And why is it a big deal?
As a gynaecologist, let me tell you- osteoporosis is a big deal…and not for nothing. Osteoporosis is a gradual denudation of bones in the body which leads to many complications-broken bones and fractures being the tip of the iceberg.
While men also suffer from osteoporosis as they age, being female increases the frequency and severity of osteoporosis multifold. Here are some facts:
- Approximately one in two women over age 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis.
- A woman’s risk of breaking a hip is equal to her combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.
- Women tend to have smaller, thinner bones than men- thus the increased risk
- Estrogen, a hormone in women that protects bones, decreases sharply when women reach menopause, which can cause bone loss. This is why the chance of developing osteoporosis increases as women reach menopause.
Now the good news:
People used to think that osteoporosis was an inevitable part of aging. Today we know a lot more about how to prevent, detect, and treat the disease. You are never too young or old to take care of your bones. Good lifestyle habits can help you protect your bones and decrease your chance of getting osteoporosis.
There typically are no symptoms in the early stages of bone loss. But once your bones have been weakened by osteoporosis, you may have signs and symptoms that include:
- Back pain, caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra
- Loss of height over time
- A stooped posture
- A bone fracture that occurs much more easily than expected
What’s Your Risk?
Menopause: A Time for Action
When a woman reaches menopause, her estrogen levels drop and can lead to bone loss. For some women, this bone loss is rapid and severe.
Two major factors that affect your chance of getting osteoporosis are:
- The amount of bone you have when you reach menopause: The greater your bone density is to begin with, the lower your chance of developing osteoporosis. If you had low peak bone mass or other risk factors that caused you to lose bone, your chance of getting osteoporosis is greater.
- How fast you lose bone after you reach menopause: For some women, bone loss happens faster than for others. In fact, a woman can lose up to 20% of her bone density during the five – seven years following menopause. If you lose bone quickly, you have a greater chance of developing osteoporosis.Teens: What YOU Can Do Now
Osteoporosis is the disease that is most likely to cause weak bones. It is more common in older people, especially women. But it is doesn’t have to happen to YOU when you get older. That’s because, for many people, osteoporosis can be prevented. The recipe for bone health is simple:
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D, and eat a well balanced diet.
- Don’t smoke or drink
Young Adult Women
While osteoporosis is most common in older people, it sometimes affects young people, including premenopausal women in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Young women who have low bone density, often caused by low peak bone mass, are at an increased risk of getting osteoporosis later in life. Often, when premenopausal women have osteoporosis, it may be due to an underlying medical condition or a medicine that causes bone loss. Osteoporosis that is caused by a medical condition or a medicine is called secondary osteoporosis. Sometimes premenopausal women have osteoporosis for no known reason. This is called idiopathic osteoporosis.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin D are good for you and for your baby’s growing bones. If you don’t get enough of these nutrients, your baby’s calcium needs will be met by taking calcium from your bones.
Some women develop a temporary type of osteoporosis during pregnancy. Most studies show however that bone density and mass is regained shortly after pregnancy.
Like pregnancy, breastfeeding may cause some temporary bone loss. However, bone density appears to recover over time and should not cause long-term harm to a woman’s bone health. All women who are pregnant or nursing need to get enough calcium, vitamin D and appropriate exercise to keep their bones healthy.
How can I help you?
Bone density testing. A bone density test shows the amount of bone a person has in the hip, spine or other bones. It is routinely recommended for postmenopausal women and men age 50 and older and is how osteoporosis is diagnosed in older people. Bone density tests are usually only done for premenopausal women if they break several bones easily or break bones that are unusual for their age, such as bones in the hip or spine.
One or two years after an initial bone density test, a second bone density may be done and will determine if you have low peak bone mass that is staying the same or if you are losing bone. If your bone density drops significantly between the first and second test, you may be losing bone and further evaluation by a healthcare provider is needed.
What can you do?
- Calcium: Men and women between the ages of 18 and 50 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. This daily amount increases to 1,200 milligrams when women turn 50 and men turn 70.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D improves your body’s ability to absorb calcium
- Body weight: Being underweight increases the chance of bone loss and fractures. Excess weight is now known to increase the risk of fractures in your arm and wrist. As such, maintaining an appropriate body weight is good for bones just as it is for health in general.
- Exercise: Exercise can help you build strong bones and slow bone loss. Exercise will benefit your bones no matter when you start, but you’ll gain the most benefits if you start exercising regularly when you’re young and continue to exercise throughout your life.