Osteoporosis: 6 Things to Know

Image - Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that literally translates “porous bone.” If you look at the healthy bone under a microscope, it looks similar to a honeycomb. With osteoporosis, there are larger holes and spaces in between the bone, meaning you’ve lost bone density or mass.  As your bones become less dense, they become weaker and are more likely to break. In seniors, this poses the threat of kyphosis (curving of the spine) and a potentially fatal hip fracture.

1. PREVALENCE:  The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates about 53 million Americans have osteoporosis. Discovery Health reports that approximately 71% of women with osteoporosis don’t even know they have it, and 86% who have osteoporosis are not being treated.

2. CALCIUM: Young adults should be consuming between 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium daily through food, and if needed, supplements to help keep your bones strong. Women 50+ should be getting 1,200 to 1,300 mg of calcium a day. Good sources of calcium include low fat milk, yogurt, and cheese.  Your doctor may prescribe a calcium + vitamin D supplement based on your specific needs.

3. MENOPAUSE Your risk for developing osteoporosis increases after menopause because your body’s natural production of the hormone estrogen declines. Estrogen helps keep bones strong. Because post-menopausal hormone therapy increases the risk for breast cancer, heart attack, stroke, and blood clots, your doctor will discuss if hormone therapy is right for you. Women taking estrogen products are urged to have yearly breast exams, perform monthly breast self-exams and receive periodic mammograms.

4. BONE MASS: Without treatment, women lose as much as 25-30%  in the first five to seven years following menopause.  Bone-loss rates can be slowed by regular weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises. Activities such as walking, gardening, jogging, and playing tennis help to strengthen bones and connective tissue.

5. BONE DENSITY TEST: A bone density test (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry or DEXA) measures the mineral density in your hip bones and spine to determine your risk of developing osteoporosis. This test takes about 20 minutes and is not usually performed until after menopause, unless you have an unusually high risk for osteoporosis. It is quick, painless and a non-invasive procedure (no needles).

6. PREVENTION & TREATMENT: While there is no cure for osteoporosis, it is treatable. Medications are available to help either slow bone loss or increase the rate of bone formation.  Your doctor can discuss medication options with you, but you can help prevent bone loss and fractures from osteoporosis with proper nutrition, exercise, and by not using tobacco products.