What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by low bone density. This means that you have less bone mass than when you were younger. As a result of low bone density, bones become brittle, weak and more likely to fracture. Depending on its severity, osteoporosis may be accompanied by symptoms of back pain, decreased height, stooped posture and broken bones. Osteoporosis affects 25 million Americans, 80% of whom are women. It is often called “the silent condition” because you do not have the condition until the first fracture occurs.
Why Is it a Concern to Women?
The reason that so many women are affected by osteoporosis is because menopause is the single most important cause of the disease. At menopause, your body loses estrogen. Throughout life, estrogen plays a significant role in maintaining bone strength. With a decrease in estrogen levels, your bone breaks down more rapidly than it is reformed. In the first five to seven years of menopause, a woman can lose 20% of her bone mass.
Risk Factors for Osteoporosis
Factors that increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis include:
- Caucasian or Asian ethnicity
- Cigarette smoking
- Excessive intake of alcohol and/or caffeine
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Lack of exercise or activity
- Low calcium diet
- Menopausal/postmenopausal behavior
- Thin or small body frame
- Use of certain medications, such as corticosteroids and anticonvulsants
How Is Osteoporosis Diagnosed?
It is possible to detect low bone mass through special measurement tests called densitometry. Bone density testing can be measured from various places throughout the body, such as the hip, the spine, the forearm, the ankle or the whole body. A bone density test can identify individuals with low bone mass and predict the likelihood of future fractures. The test is safe and painless and takes just a few minutes.
A bone density test uses X-ray technology, applying X-rays only to the scan site itself. The radiation dose is very low and is confined to a small area. The amount of radiation from a typical bone density test is only a fraction of that received from other X-ray procedures. The radiation levels are so minimal that no external shielding is required. The dose is safe to both the patient and the technologist performing the test.
Am I at Risk?
Answering these questions will assist you in evaluating your personal risk for osteoporosis. If your final score is six or greater you should be evaluated further for osteoporosis. Please contact your physician to discuss your concerns and to evaluate your need for further testing.
How Can I Protect Myself Against Osteoporosis?
- Balanced diet with foods rich in Calcium
- Discuss Vitamin D supplementation with your physician
- Don’t smoke
- Exercise Regularly – Especially weight bearing exercise such as walking and bicycling
- Limit caffeine and alcohol intake
A balanced diet rich in calcium may not be enough for postmenopausal women to prevent osteoporosis. In addition to behavioral changes, medical treatment may be necessary to help prevent or slow the process of bone loss, the most common of which is estrogen replacement therapy.
If you are concerned that you might be at risk for osteoporosis based on your personal history, talk with your provider about estrogen replacement therapy, as it is widely used for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.
Learn More About Osteoporosis
For more information, contact your personal physician or contact The National Osteoporosis Foundation.
National Osteoporosis Foundation
11501 7th St. NW, Suite 500
Washington, D.C. 20036-4603