Keep Your Skeleton Strong: Preventing and Treating Osteoporosis
If you’re a woman over age 50, you have a one in two chance of breaking a bone — most likely in the spine, hip or wrist — in the coming years. The cause of these breaks? Osteoporosis, a degenerative disease that causes bones to become thin, weak and highly vulnerable to fracture.
And because thin, brittle bones break so easily, osteoporosis fractures can be serious. For an elderly woman, a hip fracture suffered in a simple fall can be permanently disabling or even fatal.
Are you at risk?
Your risk of osteoporosis is increased by numerous factors, including:
- Decreased estrogen levels following menopause
- Certain medical conditions, such as an overactive thyroid, liver disease or rheumatoid arthritis
- Lack of calcium and/or vitamin D
- Long-term use of corticosteroids
- Lack of weight-bearing exercise
- Tobacco use
- Genetics: Caucasian, Asian and Hispanic women have a greater risk than African-American women
Diagnosis and treatment
Osteoporosis develops painlessly, without symptoms — until a bone breaks. Bone density tests can analyze bone mass and predict the risk of fracture. Most common is the DEXA scan, which uses dual energy X-rays of the hip and spine to predict osteoporosis. Women should have an annual bone density test beginning at age 50.
Your physician can prescribe various medication treatments to increase bone mass in women past menopause. Depending on the medication, it may be taken daily, weekly or monthly. Another option may be a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM), which can help prevent or treat bone loss.
You can take steps to prevent osteoporosis. Building strong bones, especially before age 35, is a good defense, as is a bone-friendly lifestyle.
To help keep bones healthy and strong, be sure to get enough of the following:
- Calcium. Women age 25 to 65 should have 1,000 mg of calcium daily. Women near or in menopause should boost their intake to 1,200 to 1,500 mg. Calcium-rich foods include low-fat dairy products and dark green leafy vegetables. Your physician may also recommend a calcium supplement.
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Most women get enough from sunlight, but if you are rarely outdoors, check with your doctor.
- Exercise. Weight-bearing exercise that forces your body to work against gravity, such as walking, jogging, dancing and strength training, builds strong bones and improves balance and mobility.
- Schedule a bone density screening
- Attend a free Scripps seminar on osteoporosis prevention and treatment. Call 1-800-SCRIPPS (800-727-4777) for upcoming Scripps events and screenings.