Bones constantly change, and over a period of time the old ones are removed and newer ones are added. Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones become very weak and can break easily. Often, the first sign of osteoporosis is a bone that cracks, sometimes after just straining or twisting. The hormone estrogen plays vital in building new bone; therefore the decline in this female hormone during menopause leaves many older women at risk for developing osteoporosis.
Some women are more at risk of developing osteoporosis than others. Risk factors, things that increase your chances of osteoporosis include:
- A family history of osteoporosis
- Being thin or having a small body frame
- Early menopause
- Extended bed rest
- A fracture in the middle age
- Insufficient calcium throughout life
- Long-term heavy drinking
- Surgery to remove both ovaries before natural menopause
- Using certain medicines, such as glucocorticoids or some anticonvulsants, for long periods of time
If you have any of these risk factors or are concerned about the health of your bones, talk to your doctor about what you can do to protect them.
There are steps you can take to prevent osteoporosis after menopause.
- The first step in preventing osteoporosis is to build as much bone density as possible by age thirty. After that age, some women may begin to lose bone strength. As estrogen levels decline during menopause, the bone loss mechanism picks up speed during this time and continues in old age. So, get plenty of calcium and vitamin D while you are young and encourage all women around you; friends, daughters, and granddaughters to get their calcium doses.
- Keeping the bone strength you have at menopause is the next step in preventing osteoporosis. Exercise and a proper diet can help maintain bone strength or slow its loss. Regular weight-bearing exercises (such as walking, running, stair climbing, or using weights to exercise) at least three or four times a week can help keep your bones strong. Strengthening and balance exercises can help you avoid falls, which could cause a broken bone.
- Lifestyle changes can also help protect your bones. If you smoke, preventing bone loss is yet another reason to stop. Women who smoke also seem to go through menopause about 11/2 to 2 years earlier than those who don’t smoke. And, if you drink alcoholic beverages, be careful how much you drink. Having too much alcohol might cause you to fall and break a bone in addition to other serious health problems.
- Sometimes exercise, diet, and lifestyle changes are not enough, and medicines are needed. Medications include bisphosphonates, raloxifene, estrogen, calcitonin, and parathyroid hormone. Some of these build up bone density. Others prevent further bone loss. Talk to your doctor to find out which would be best for you.
- If you are over age 65 or if you are 60 to 64 and have any of the risk factors described earlier, don’t wait for a broken bone to find out if you have osteoporosis. Talk to your HCP about a bone density test, perhaps a DEXA scan (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry), to find out how solid your bones are. Two spots at high risk for a fracture will probably be checked; hips and spine.