Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis makes bones weak and more likely to fracture (break). In the U.S., half of adults age 50 or older have osteoporosis or are developing it. You may not know your bones are fragile until they break, since osteoporosis develops slowly and without symptoms. As many as one in three women older than 50 may experience an osteoporosis-related fracture.

Bone Loss and Women

Our bodies constantly replace old bone tissue with new growth until we stop getting taller. Once you’re in your thirties, you’re likely losing a small amount of bone tissue each year.

During and after menopause, most women lose bone quickly. In fact, you can lose up to 20% of your bone mass in the first few years after menopause. Your rate of bone loss depends on:

  • Age
  • Exercise habits
  • Genetics
  • Hormone balance
  • Lifestyle choices
  • Nutrition

Lifestyle Tips

It’s never too early or too late to take steps to prevent osteoporosis or a broken bone.

Behavior

  • Wear well-fitting shoes with good traction. If your shoes are affecting your gait or your balance, it’s time to make a change.
  • Try to prevent falls. Get rid of tripping hazards. Approach stairs mindfully, and use railings and banisters when available. Apply anti-slip treatments to areas around stairs, tubs and shower stalls. Install grab bars in the bathroom. Add nighttime lighting in bedrooms and corridors. Avoid medications that cause dizziness. 
  • Don’t smoke. Quitting the habit is one of the best things you can do for your health.

Diet

  • Calculate your typical daily calcium intake, and adjust as needed. Most adults need 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day. It’s best to get calcium from food. Eat dairy products, almond or soy milk, and leafy dark green vegetables (e.g., broccoli, kale and bok choy). Consider taking a supplement if you can’t get enough calcium from your diet. 
  • Eat foods fortified with vitamin D (e.g., orange juice, oatmeal, and certain cereals, milk and yogurt) or foods naturally rich in vitamin D (e.g., beef liver, egg yolks, and cold-water fish, such as tuna, salmon, sardines and mackerel). 
  • Have your vitamin D levels checked. Most women living in the northern U.S. require 2,000 IU (international units) above what they get from food to help their body store enough vitamin D. 
  • Drink no more than one alcoholic beverage per day.

Exercise

  • Do weight-bearing exercise regularly to help your body make new bone tissue. Activities include walking, hiking, step aerobics, jogging, dancing and strength training. 
  • Work on your balance and strengthen your core with exercises that won’t put you at higher risk for falls or fractures, such as yoga and Pilates.

Screening Tests

Get regular bone density tests. Talk to your primary care doctor about the best schedule for you. For most women, the best time to screen for bone loss is during perimenopause. Do repeat testing on the same machine to allow for a comparison between past and current tests.

Treatment Options

If you receive a diagnosis of osteoporosis, your doctor may recommend one or more of these treatments:

Medication

Types of medication include: 

  • Antiresorptives – Slow bone loss; includes bisphosphonates, the most common drugs for osteoporosis 
  • Anabolics – Help bones grow 
  • Hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone – Help prevent or treat osteoporosis

Physical and Occupational Therapy

Physical and occupational therapists work with you to reduce your risk of bone injury based on your personal needs.

Surgery

In cases of painful spine fractures, vertebroplasty injects bone cement into the fractured bone to stabilize it and relieve pain.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are risk factors for osteoporosis?

Bone mass gradually declines in response to aging and each person’s unique risk factors, including:

  • Being underweight, especially in your teens and 20s, the lifetime peak of bone density
  • Family history of osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or early menopause due to surgery or chemotherapy
  • Hormone balance · Level of weight-bearing exercise (which strengthens bones)
  • Nutrition, including lack of vitamin D, calcium, or protein and too much alcohol or soda
  • Poor absorption of nutrients due to colon problems (e.g., Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), cystic fibrosis, diabetes, Cushing disease or parathyroid dysfunction
  • Smoking
  • Use of oral steroid medication
What problems can osteoporosis cause?

Osteoporosis can lead to:

  • Fractures, especially in the spine, hip, wrist and thigh, which can cause chronic (long-lasting) pain and require major surgery
  • Microfractures (tiny breaks) in vertebrae that may put pressure on your spine, cause it to curve, and make you shorter
  • Loss and cracking of teeth and poor healing after dental procedures
I’ve already reached menopause. Is it too late to prevent osteoporosis?

Just as it’s never too early to start improving your bone health, it’s also never too late. Follow the lifestyle tips outlined on this page.

What’s Osteopenia?

Osteopenia occurs when the bones are thinner than expected. Having osteopenia doesn’t mean you will get osteoporosis, but it does mean you’re at higher risk for fractures and should start taking actions to boost your bone health.

Contact us

Talk to a care navigator or schedule an appointment at the Women’s Health & Wellness Center.