As women age, many are stricken with a degenerative bone disease called osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is the most common metabolic bone disease in the United States today and afflicts women after menopause but as early as by age 35. The disease affects the bones, somehow creating an imbalance in the normal cycle of renewal of healthy bone tissue. When bone tissue fails to renew, the tissue begins to break down faster than it can be replaced. Bone density is compromised and bones become thin, brittle, and far more prone to breakage than normal.
Osteoporosis often is present without pain or any symptoms. The first indication of the disease is when a bone breaks. Most often, these fractures occur in the spine, hip, and wrist bone of post-menopausal females. Symptoms of a spinal fracture include a severe backache and a shift in posture to a stooped, round shouldered position. Height may decrease as a result and the spine may appear curved.
Causes of osteporosis are not fully known but aging is a factor. As women age and enter menopause, estrogen production within the body declines. Because estrogen plays a part in supplying calcium to the bone, this loss is believed to be linked to osteporosis. Early menopause adds to the risk factor for the disease. Other factors that may contribute to the formation of osteoporosis include excessive alcohol use, tobacco smoking, family history of osteoporosis, lack of dairy and protein in the life long diet, and excessive excercise prior to menopause.
Some diseases are thought to contribute to osteoporosis and these include thyroid disorders, hormonal imbalance, Cushings disease, chronic liver disease, and some intestinal disorders. Women who are of either Asian or Caucasian heritage and those who reach menopause before age 45 are at greater risk for developing the disease.
Treatment options for osteoporosis include some prescription drugs called anti-resorptives. These can slow and in some cases end the loss of bone minerals. Three common drugs of this type in use include estrogen, alendronate, and calcitonin. Women who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis should consult their doctor for which medication might best suit their condition and needs.
Perhaps the best treatment is prevention. Once osteoporosis begins to affect the bones, it’s difficult to halt. Younger women, however, can follow these steps to prevent osteoporosis and to enhance bone strength.
Begin a daily physical fitness regime. This could include walking, jogging, running, aerobic classes, dancing, bicyling, and other sports. Do not excercise to excess but maintain a regular program.
Keep weight at recommended levels.
Eliminate tobacco use and limit alcholic beverages to two per day.
Eat a healthy diet that includes a minimum of 1,000 to 1,500 miligrams of calcium and at least 400 units of Vitamin D each day. These can be added through supplements but for the best effect, women can get the recommended levels from 4-5 cups of Vitamin D enriched milk, with green, leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grain products. Consult a doctor before taking too many supplements – overdosage of calcium in particular can be harmful.
Use accident prevention measures to avoid injury. Post-menopausal women in particular should use extreme care around the home. Falls can result in the use of a cane and such injuries can aggravate osteoporosis or cause fractures. Use railings on all stairways, remove trip hazards such as rugs or wires, and use night lights to light dark areas throughout the home.
Prevention measures are vital for younger women and even women of menopausal ages can benefit from following the same regime. If osteoporosis is suspected, consult a medical practioner for early treatment.