The Silent Bone Thinner
Osteoporosis is a disease that thins
and weakens bones to the point where they break
easily--especially bones in the hip, spine, and wrist.
Osteoporosis is called the "silent disease" because
you may not notice any symptoms. People can lose bone over many
years but not know they have osteoporosis until a bone breaks.
About 25 million Americans have osteoporosis--80 percent are
Experts do not fully understand all the causes of osteoporosis.
They do know that when women go through menopause, levels of the
female hormone estrogen drop. Lower hormone levels can lead to
bone loss and osteoporosis. Other causes of bone loss and
osteoporosis include a diet too low in calcium and not getting
Who Gets Osteoporosis?
One out of two women and one in eight men over
age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture. White and
Asian women are most likely to get osteoporosis. Women who have
a family history of osteoporosis, an early menopause, or who
have small body frames are at greatest risk. Men have less risk
of getting osteoporosis because they do not have the same kinds
of hormone losses as women. Osteoporosis can strike at any age
but the risk increases as you get older.
Losing height or breaking a bone may be the
first sign of osteoporosis. Doctors use several different tests
to find osteoporosis. The dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA)
is the most exact way to measure bone density in the wrist, hip,
and lower spine. Other tests the doctor may use include single
photon absorptiometry, dual energy absorptiometry, and
quantitative computed tomography. Ask your doctor about these
tests if you think you are at risk for osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is preventable. A diet that is
rich in calcium and vitamin D and a lifestyle that includes
regular weight-bearing exercise are the best ways to prevent
Calcium. Getting enough calcium throughout life is important
because it helps to build and keep strong bones. Men and women
age 25 to 65 should have 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium every
day. Women near or past menopause should have 1,500 mg of
calcium daily. Make foods that are high in calcium part of your
diet. Healthy foods that are rich in calcium are:
- low-fat dairy products such as cheese,
yogurt, and milk
- canned fish with bones you can eat, such as
salmon and sardines
- dark-green leafy vegetables, such as kale,
collard, and broccoli
- breads made with calcium-fortified flour.
If you donít get enough calcium from your
food, you might think about taking a calcium supplement. Always
check with your doctor before taking any dietary supplement.
Vitamin D. Your body uses vitamin D to absorb calcium. Being out
in the sun for even a short time every day gives most people
enough vitamin D. You can also get this vitamin from
supplements, as well as from cereal and milk fortified with
Exercise. Exercise builds bone strength and helps prevent bone
loss. It also helps older people stay active and mobile.
Weight-bearing exercises, done on a regular basis, are best for
preventing osteoporosis. Walking, jogging, and playing tennis
are all good weight-bearing exercises. Always check with your
doctor before starting an exercise program.
Treatment of osteoporosis aims to stop bone
loss and prevent falls. Falls often cause broken bones that can
mean a trip to the hospital or a long-term disabling condition.
Osteoporosis is the cause of 1.5 million fractures each year,
including more than 300,000 hip fractures.
Doctors sometimes prescribe estrogen to replace the hormones
lost during menopause and to slow the rate of bone loss. This
treatment is called hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT also
protects against heart disease and stroke. However, experts do
not know all the risks of long-term use of HRT.
Women should discuss benefits, risks, and possible side effects
of HRT with their doctors. Calcitonin is a naturally occurring
hormone that increases bone density in the spine and can reduce
pain of fractures. It comes in two forms--injection or nasal
sprays. You can also ask your doctor about the drug alendronate.
This drug increases bone mass in women past menopause.
The best way to prevent osteoporosis is to be aware of the
disease and to live a healthy lifestyle. If you think you might
be at risk for osteoporosis, talk to your doctor. Ask about the
bone density tests available in your area and your prevention
and treatment choices.
National Osteoporosis Foundation
1150 17th Street, NW, Suite 602
Washington, DC 20036-2226
National Resource Center on Osteoporosis and Related Diseases
TTY (202) 223-0344
For a list of free publications from the National Institute on
Aging (NIA), contact:
NIA Information Center
P.O. Box 8057
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057
National Institute on Aging
U. S. Department of Health and Human Services
Public Health Service
National Institutes of Health