Osteoporosis In Women

Osteoporosis Definition

Osteoporosis is a disease that thins and weakens bones to the point where they may break easily.  This disease most often causes fractures of the hip, spine, and wrist bones.


Causes
In young, healthy adults, bones continue to grow, reaching their greatest strength around ages 20 to 35.  After that, bones slowly become weaker as you age.

The risk of osteoporosis increases with age and usually develops in women after menopause, between the ages of 45 and 55.   After menopause, women produce much less estrogen. Low levels of estrogen cause weakening of the bones, as estrogen helps deposit calcium in the bones.

Other causes of Osteoporosis are:

  • Lifestyle habits such as: smoking, having more than 1 drink of alcohol a day, too little calcium in the diet, and not enough weight-bearing exercise such as walking, dancing, or lifting weights
  • Surgical removal of the ovaries, which reduces estrogen levels
  • Long-term use of certain medicines, such as steroids used to treat asthma or arthritis, thyroid medication, anticonvulsants, certain cancer treatments, and aluminum-containing antacids
  • Chronic diseases that affect the kidneys, lungs, stomach, or intestines or change hormone levels (example of such diseases are diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and heart failure)
  • Intense exercise (such as marathon running), which reduces estrogen levels
  • Long periods of bed rest during serious illness, which speeds up the loss of calcium from bones
  • Eating disorders or too much dieting, which may also reduce estrogen levels

Symptoms
You may have no symptoms until a bone breaks.  Broken bones are the most common problem for people with osteoporosis.  Often it’s the hip, arm, or wrist that breaks. The bones of the spine are also a common area of thinning.  Over time, the bones of the spine (vertebrae) can collapse on themselves, one at a time, causing loss of height, back pain, and stooping posture.


Diagnosis
Your healthcare provider may discover you have osteoporosis from an X-ray taken for some other problem.  Otherwise, the diagnosis might be made from a review of your medical history and symptoms, a physical exam, X-rays, and blood tests.  You may have a test to measure your bone mineral density, which is called a DXA scan.

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.


Treatment
The goals of osteoporosis treatment are to:

  • Control pain from the disease
  • Slow down or stop bone loss
  • Prevent bone fractures with medicines that strengthen bone
  • Minimize the risk of falls that might cause fractures

There are several different treatment options for osteoporosis, including lifestyle changes and a variety of medications.


Prevention

  • Follow the treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider
  • If you are taking medication to treat your osteoporosis, be sure to take it as directed
  • Eat healthy foods, especially low-fat milk and dairy products, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, and shellfish
  • Take a daily calcium supplement and vitamin D supplement if your healthcare provider recommends it
  • Do weight-bearing physical activity, such as walking regularly.  Weight-bearing exercises help prevent bone loss and strengthen muscles, which can help prevent falls
  • Stop smoking.  Smokers absorb less calcium from their diet
  • Talk with your healthcare provider about osteoporosis prevention when you reach menopause.