Essential facts women should know about osteoporosis

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Essential facts women should know about osteoporosis

All it takes is a crack or break from a simple fall reminding a woman of her risk for weak, porous bones.  Osteoporosis, a disease slowly and silently taking years to develop, can suddenly appear out of nowhere making a woman vulnerable to suffering from the consequences of breaking a bone.

The medical condition of osteoporosis is one in which all women should be knowledgeable on and aware of.  Being of the female gender automatically places women at risk of developing this chronic disease putting them at risk of broken bones.

Basic facts on women and osteoporosis

Here are facts on what women need to know about this silent condition:

·      Of the estimated 10 million Americans with osteoporosis, about eight million or 80% are women.

·      Approximately one in two women over age 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis.

·      A woman’s risk of breaking a hip is equal to her combined risk of breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer.

Why women are at a greater risk for osteoporosis

Women are more likely to get osteoporosis than men for several reasons including the following:

·      Women tend to have smaller, thinner than men.

·      Estrogen a hormone in women that protects bones decreases sharply when women reach menopause, which can cause bone loss.  This is why the chance of developing osteoporosis increases as women grow older and reach menopause.  For some women, bone loss happens faster than for others. In fact, a woman can lose up to 20% of her bone density during the five to seven years following menopause.  The faster bone is lost, the greater the chance of developing osteoporosis.

·      Some women may not be as physically active as men and thus will not have developed dense, stronger bone over the course of their life.

·      About twenty percent of Caucasian and Asian women age 50 and older are estimated to have osteoporosis.

·      Between the ages of 20 and 80, Caucasian women lose one-third of the bone mineral density in their hip.

·      About five percent of African American women older than 50 are estimated to have osteoporosis.

·      Ten percent of Latino women have osteoporosis and about half of them older than 50 have low bone mass, meaning their bones are getting weaker but they don’t yet have osteoporosis.

How is osteoporosis discovered?

Diagnosing osteoporosis can be done by having a bone density test.  This test will show the amount of bone a person has in the hip, spine, and other bones.  It is routinely recommended for postmenopausal women over the age of 50.   

This painless procedure uses X-rays to measure how many grams of calcium and other bone minerals are packed into a segment of bone.  The higher the bone mineral content, the denser and stronger the bones are making them less likely to break.

Bone density tests may be recommended for the following reasons:

·      Loss of height – Someone who has lost at least 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) in height ma have compression fractures in their spine for which osteoporosis is one of the main causes.

·      A fractured bone – Bones that are fragile are more susceptible to breaking.

·      Taking certain drugs – Long-term use of steroid medications such as prednisone, interferes with the bone-rebuilding process which can lead to osteoporosis.

·      Organ or bone marrow transplant recipients – Use of anti-injections drugs can interfere with the bone-rebuilding process.

·      Reduction in hormone levels – Women who have gone through menopause will have a natural drop in estrogen levels weakening bones. 

What can women do to slow or prevent osteoporosis?

The key to preventing or at the very least, slowing down the rate of this condition is to start early in life.  The best time to be thinking ahead for preventing osteoporosis is as a child.  When bones are growing during childhood and adolescence is the time for building dense, strong bones.  This sets a woman up for stronger bones later in life.  The recipe for bone health is simple:

·      Get enough calcium by eating a well-balanced diet.  The best sources of calcium include all dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese and some plant-based foods of broccoli, Brussel sprouts, beans, lentils, or orange and grape juice fortified with calcium. 

·      Exposure to sunlight allows the body to make the bone-building hormone of vitamin D.   

·      Sufficient vitamin D is required in order for the body to absorb calcium.  The best food sources of this fat-soluble vitamin include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, egg yolks, beef liver, cheese, and milk.   

·      Exercise consistently during childhood and continuing into adulthood.  Weight-bearing exercises such as brisk walking, jogging/running, jumping rope, weight lifting, playing tennis, racquetball, or dancing, are perfect examples of building strong bones.

·      Do not smoke or drink excessively (more than one drink a day for a woman) – these unhealthy activities will only weaken bones.