Osteoporosis is the loss of bone that can occur as you get older. As the bones get thinner, they become weaker. There is a much greater risk they will break if you fall or have an otherwise minor injury. Medical complications of these injuries can result in longer stays at the hospital, disability, and even death.
Osteoporosis is most common in white and Asian women, especially slender women.
Osteoporosis occurs as women get older. Sex hormones help keep bones strong. The hormone estrogen helps women's bones stay strong. For example, it helps deposit calcium in the bones. Women produce much less estrogen after menopause. Surgical removal of the ovaries and intense exercise (such as marathon running) can also reduce estrogen levels. The lower levels of estrogen cause a weakening of the bones.
Women who smoke or are physically inactive are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. Too little calcium in the diet or a family history of osteoporosis are other risk factors.
You may have no clear symptoms until a bone breaks. Broken bones are the most common problem for people with osteoporosis. The hip, arm, and wrist are common places for breaks.
Treatment cannot eliminate osteoporosis, but it can slow down the loss of bone.
The single most effective treatment for osteoporosis is estrogen (hormone replacement therapy). Women begin to produce less estrogen before menopause. Without this hormone to help bones stay strong, women are more likely to have osteoporosis. Taking estrogen pills around the time of menopause is the best way to slow calcium loss from the bones and keep your bones strong. Many physicians are now prescribing estrogen replacement for women in the near- menopause period because the greatest loss of bone density occurs in the first years of menopause.
Treatment also includes increasing the calcium your body gets, usually through diet and supplements. Calcium is helpful in the treatment of osteoporosis, especially if you are not taking estrogen, but it is not nearly as helpful as estrogen. Generally, doctors recommend 1,000 milligrams of calcium for women taking estrogen and 1,500 milligrams for women who are not.
Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking or stair climbing, also helps keep your bones strong. Doing this kind of physical activity every day may help stop further weakening of your bones.
The risk of a broken bone resulting from osteoporosis increases with age. Once menopause begins, most women, especially Caucasian and Asian women, need to take precautions for the rest of their lives to prevent osteoporosis.
Follow the treatment prescribed by your health care provider. In addition, you can:
Eat healthy foods, especially low-fat milk and dairy products, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, sardines, and shellfish.
Take a daily calcium supplement if your provider recommends it.
Do weight-bearing physical activity, such as walking, regularly. Be sure to exercise your upper body also.
You can help prevent osteoporosis with:
hormone replacement therapy at menopause
adequate calcium in your diet, especially before age 35