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News Letter

What Is Osteoporosis? Print E-mail

Osteoporosis is a condition of decreased bone density as a result of excessive loss of calcium in the bones. When a bone has lost calcium it will become fragile and fractures can occur. Osteoporosis is a disease that affects about 25 million older Americans, most of whom are women.  

Women over the age of 40 and after the onset of menopause are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. Estrogen helps bones retain calcium and after menopause the body no longer produces as much estrogen. Men are affected by osteoporosis but in much smaller numbers. One reason for this is that men have more total bone mass. Normal aging results in some osteoporosis in both sexes and is related to decreased muscular activity.

Many people do not know that they have osteoporosis until they have a bone fracture. However, with advances in bone scanning equipment that can test the bone density, osteoporosis can be detected earlier and treatment can halt the disease. Leading a preventative lifestyle can also help avert the disease.  

Indications and Risk Factors for Osteoporosis

It is a fact that as we grow older, less bone is made and more bone is lost. Osteoporosis affects about half of all women over the age of 45 and 90 percent over the age of 75. Approximately 1.3 million fractures occur yearly because of osteoporosis.

Besides age, other risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Being female
  • Early menopause
  • Being Caucasian
  • Being underweight
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia

Symptoms of Osteoporosis

If you think you are at risk of developing osteoporosis, you should visit your doctor to discuss your concerns. If your doctor thinks you might have osteoporosis, she or he will most likely take a complete medical history and conduct a complete physical exam first.  Your doctor may order blood tests to rule out other types of arthritis and may check the calcium level in your blood and your thyroid level.   X-rays may be taken to see inside your bones and a bone density test may be ordered using a machine called a bone densitometer. This is a painless procedure.

Treatment of Osteoporosis

Prevention is the best medicine. A diet high in calcium (1500 mg a day) and vitamin D is necessary. Calcium can be found in milk and dairy and in some fish such as sardines and salmon. Calcium supplements can also be taken if you are not getting enough calcium in your regular diet. Vitamin D helps your body absorb the calcium and you can boost your Vitamin D intake by spending time in the sun or through foods such as milk, fish and liver. A multivitamin can also provide the necessary amount of Vitamin D your body needs.

Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake will also help.  Smoking lowers estrogen levels and reduces bone mass.  Heavy alcohol use contributes to the loss of bone density and can make you more prone to falling.

Exercise is also necessary for building bone mass. Walking and other weight-bearing sports are especially good because it will build strength in your bones.

Estrogen treatment may help prevent and treat osteoporosis. After menopause, the ovaries stop producing estrogen, which is a hormone that regulates the menstrual cycles and helps to sustain bone density. Estrogen replacement therapy that is started within the first few years after menopause can significantly reduce the risk for developing osteoporosis. It both prevents and treats osteoporosis and increases bone density in the hip and spine. There are some downsides to estrogen replacement therapy. Estrogens have been associated with an increase in breast cancer. You should discuss your concerns with your doctor before starting an estrogen replacement therapy program.

There are other drugs on the market that treat osteoporosis and new ones are always being developed. Your doctor will be able to inform you about osteoporosis and help you make a decision about your treatment.


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