What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a bone-thinning disease that could lead to bone fractures. Although older women are more likely to get osteoporosis, older men can get it too, and so can younger people, particularly women. While your bones weaken and thin out as you age, osteoporosis is not a natural part of aging.
Women who have gone through menopause are at greatest risk for osteoporosis because their bodies stop producing estrogen, which protects their bones. There are other factors besides menopause that could increase your risk for osteoporosis:
• Race - being a white or Asian woman
• Bone structure and body weight - being very thin and/or having a small frame
• Cigarette smoking
• Excessive use of alcohol
• Low lifetime calcium intake
• Vitamin D deficiency
• Family history of osteoporosis
Does Osteoporosis Have Symptoms?
Sometimes people with osteoporosis have symptoms, such as back pain or a bone fracture, but usually there are no symptoms. Some people don’t learn they have osteoporosis until their bones get so weak that a sudden strain, bump, or fall causes a fracture of a vertebra (bones or cartilage in the spine) to collapse. These collapsed vertebrae then produce symptoms such as severe back pain, loss of height, stooped posture, or other spinal defects.
The U.S. Surgeon General recommends a three-pronged approach to protect your bones and lower your risk of getting osteoporosis: regular physical activity, regular checkups and screenings, and a healthy diet.
Regular Physical Activity:
Adults should aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Weight-bearing activities (those that put weight on your skeleton) can help prevent osteoporosis, improve strength and balance, and decrease the risk of falling. Walking, jogging, dancing, yoga, and strength training are examples of weight-bearing activities.
Regular Checkups and Screenings:
It is a good idea to get screened at menopause since that is when bone loss can start to occur. Men and women who have a broken bone after age 50 or have other risk factors should talk to their doctor about a screening. A screening, or bone density test, takes about five minutes and generally involves little to no pain.
A Healthy Diet:
Calcium and vitamin D are essential for strong bones.
Some good sources of calcium are:
• Leafy green vegetables
• Yogurt (regular or frozen)
• Sardines and salmon
Fortified milk also is a good source of vitamin D. Your body produces vitamin D naturally when your skin is exposed to the sun for a few minutes each day.
How is Osteoporosis Treated?
If diagnosed in time, doctors can treat osteoporosis with drugs that help prevent bone loss and rebuild bone, before lifethreatening fractures occur. Getting enough calcium and physical activity are also part of osteoporosis treatment. It is never too early or too late to initiate these measures. But the sooner you take preventative measures, the more likely they are to work.
Developing and maintaining healthy bones is a lifelong undertaking that begins in childhood and continues throughout adulthood. But it’s never too late to improve your health. Living a healthy lifestyle and getting regular checkups can help you prevent osteoporosis and a host of other diseases as you age.