Boning up on osteoporosis
Did you know that more than half of Americans over the age of 50 develop osteoporosis? If you're a woman, you are four times more likely than men to get osteoporosis. There's good news: you can improve bone health at any age.
What is it?
Osteoporosis causes weak, thinning bones that are prone to fractures. Eight million women and 2 million men ages 50 and older have osteoporosis, and some 34 million Americans have osteopenia, a stage of bone decline that occurs before full-blown osteoporosis. Without adequate calcium and vitamin D, bones can start to deteriorate and become brittle.
Who's at risk?
White and Asian women – especially those past menopause – are at the highest risk for developing osteoporosis. Other factors include family history of bone disease, a small body frame, caffeine and excessive alcohol use, smoking, physical inactivity and certain medications (such as antacids and thyroid drugs).
The National Institutes of Health says half of women and 25 percent of men over 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. The consequences can be serious. About 20 percent of hip fracture patients die from complications within a year of their injury.
Osteoporosis often occurs in the first few years after menopause, when bone loss accelerates due to dropping estrogen levels. Additionally, more than 90 percent of hip fractures among adults age 65 and older are caused by falling.*
Women may lose up to 20 percent of their bone mass in the five to seven years after menopause.
What can you do?
- Eat a balanced diet and take a supplement for bone health if necessary. Your doctor can tell you how much calcium and vitamin D you need. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Visit healthlibrary.enloe.org for a chart on your calcium needs.
- Increase walking and other weight-bearing exercises like weight training, stair climbing and running to build and maintain bone density.
- Ditch bad habits like smoking and excessive alcohol use.
- Get regular medical checkups. Underlying conditions or certain medications may be weakening
- Prevent falls by installing handrails, removing loose rugs or cluttered areas, and maintaining good lighting.
Testing your bones
Ask your doctor about getting a bone density test. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends this painless, simple screening for:
- Postmenopausal women younger than 65 with one or more risk factors
- All women older than 65, regardless of risk factors
- Postmenopausal women who have fractures
The test results will help you take appropriate action, including lifestyle changes and medications.