Ellen Embry, MD
Obstetrics/Gynecology, Rush Copley Medical Group
Q: I am a 50-year-old woman and am concerned about developing osteoporosis. Is there anything I can do to help prevent it?
A: Osteoporosis can be prevented and treated. The risks for osteoporosis are generally seen in older women, but if you begin healthy habits early, you will be able to help prevent it.
Osteoporosis is a disease resulting from a decrease in bone mass and bone strength. Bones become thinner, weaker and are more prone to fractures. Estrogen depletion after menopause is the main reason women are more commonly affected than men. Researchers estimate that about 20 percent of American women over the age of 50 have osteoporosis.
To help prevent osteoporosis, post-menopause, you need 1,500 milligrams a day of calcium in your diet. If you are unable to get this from your diet, add supplements of calcium, 500 milligrams two times daily and 400 international units of vitamin D daily for someone who doesn't get outside much. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium into the body.
Some other things to consider:
- Don't smoke. Smoking can reduce bone mass and increase your risk of fractures.
- Be physically active to help keep bones strong. Adults need 30 minutes of weight-bearing physical activity, such as walking, jogging or light aerobics.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being underweight raises your risk of fractures and bone loss.
- Limit alcohol. Heavy alcohol use reduces bone mass and increases the risk for broken bones.
- Talk with your doctor about the medications you are taking that could weaken bones.
If you have no special risk factors, you should start bone density screenings at age 65 or younger if you have risk factors. Risk factors for osteoporosis include sedentary lifestyle, smoking, estrogen depletion through surgery before age 45, family history of unexplained fractures before 50 and personal unexplained fractures before age 50.
Bone density screenings are also important because a person does not experience the sensation of bone loss. Bone densitometry is an examination of the lower spine and hip to measure the thickness or density of the bones. The procedure takes about 10 minutes and involves no pain or needles. A radiologist interprets the results, and a report is provided to you and your physician. A physician referral is required for this screening. For more information on osteoporosis or to make a bone densitometry appointment at Rush Copley, call 630-978-4950.