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A Woman's Guide to Bone Health (Osteoporosis)
Complex, living tissue, our bones provide structural support for muscles, protect vital organs, and store the calcium essential for bone density and strength. Because they are constantly changing, our bones can heal and may be affected by diet and exercise.

From adolescence up until the age of about 35, bone is built and stored efficiently. As one ages, however, bone begins to break down faster than new bone can be formed. This is especially the case after menopause when the ovaries stop producing estrogen - the hormone that protects against bone loss.

Bone loss may also occur prematurely in young women. Through excessive exercise, female athletes who experience irregular or absent menstrual periods or excessive weight loss may put themselves at risk for bone problems. A 20-year-old woman without periods during the important teenage growth years may have bone mass typical of a 70-year-old woman.

That's why it is important for women of all ages to take steps toward ensuring life-long bone health and preventing osteoporosis

What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition in which bones lose their density and structural integrity and become fragile and more likely to fracture. Any bone can be affected, but typically, most osteoporotic fractures occur in the hip and spine. These fractures have serious consequences and can require hospitalization and major surgery. Later symptoms of osteoporosis include loss of height, back pain or tenderness, and a curving of the upper back, known as a dowager's hump, in severe cases.

Who is at risk for osteoporosis?
Women are four times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men, but there is increased risk among women who are:

  • Caucasians and Asians
  • Small boned and thin
  • Post menopausal
  • Sedentary
  • Excessive exercisers who have experienced loss of periods and/or significant weight loss
  • Smokers
  • Alcohol drinkers
  • Caffeinated beverage drinkers
  • Deficient in dietary or supplemental calcium
  • Members of families with a history of vertebral(spinal) fractures
  • Prescribed certain medications (i.e. steroids, thyroid medication, chemotherapy) and/or who have complicated medical conditions
  • Women who have anorexia or bulimia
What's your personal risk for osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a complex disease and not all of its causes are known. However, when certain risk factors are present, your likelihood of developing osteoporosis is increased. It's important, therefore, to assess your risk and to take steps that help prevent bone health problems.  Please click here to learn how osteoporosis is diagnosed and how to keep bones healthy.

Questions (Yes or No)
  1. Do you have a small, thin frame, or are you Caucasian or Asian?
  2. Has a female member of your immediate family broken a bone as an adult?
  3. Are you a woman?
  4. Have you stopped menstruating?
  5. Is your diet low in dairy products and other sources of calcium?
  6. Are you physically inactive?
  7. Do you exercise to the point that you've stopped menstruating or experienced excessive weight loss?
  8. Do you smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol in excess?
The more times you answered 'yes,' the greater your risk for developing osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor about steps you might take to prevent osteoporosis, or, if symptoms have appeared, to help slow further bone loss. For the name of a physician or for further information, call Women & Infants' Health Line at 1-800-921-9299.  Women & Infants also offers the Menopause Program to promote the health and quality of life for all women during midlife and beyond through an understanding of menopause and healthy aging.
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