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Osteoporosis: The “Thin Bone” Disease: What Women Need to Know

Contributed by Abid Yaqub MD, FACE, FACP, ECNU, CCDKnee Xray

The human adult body consists of 206 bones; all at maximum density around the age of 30. Having optimal bone mineral density and dietary calcium is very important for our bones and helps keep them strong and healthy but for women, just being female puts you at higher risk of developing osteoporosis and broken bones.

In women, rapid loss in bone mineral density ensues primarily related to decline is estrogen levels. In the five to seven years after menopause, a woman can lose up to 20% of her bone density. This much bone loss in a short amount of time can increase a woman’s risk of developing osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become thin and may break easily. The drop of estrogen – a hormone in women that protects bones – and the fact that women have smaller, thinner bones than men are the main reasons why women are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis. Not surprisingly, women who already have a relatively lower bone mass entering menopause are at even higher risk of developing osteoporosis.

Diagnosis of Osteoporosis

Simple tests can diagnose osteoporosis early so preventive treatment can ward off trouble. Physicians diagnose the condition using a specialized x-ray technique called DXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry). A DXA scan measures bone density in your body. The results of the scan are compared to what you would expect for the person’s age (this is called a Z-score) and how they compare to a young person with peak bone mass (this is called a T-score). A T-score lower than -2.5 indicates osteoporosis.

Reducing the Risk of Osteoporosis

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends testing for all women age 65 and older and for all postmenopausal women younger than 65 who have one or more of the risk factors, including smoking, excessive alcohol use, use of steroids and other medications adversely affecting bone, certain diseases like Rheumatoid arthritis, family history of osteoporosis or vitamin D deficiency. Around the time of menopause, a woman can reduce her risk of developing osteoporosis by making a few lifestyle changes, including:

  • Aim for 1,200 mg of calcium intake every day. If your diet falls short of calcium, consider calcium supplements. Calcium citrate and calcium carbonate are best.
  • Maintain adequate vitamin D intake 800-1000 IU/day. Vitamin D levels can be measured by a blood test.
  • Exercise regularly. A combination of weight bearing exercise for 30 minutes a day and resistance (strength) training for 2-3 times a week is very helpful in maintaining strong, healthy bones.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking cigarettes is associated with a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol & caffeine use.

Medical treatments are available for those diagnosed with osteoporosis or those who have a high risk of developing it. If you have questions or concerns about your risk of developing osteoporosis, talk to your doctor.

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