Osteoporosis: Warning Signs & Tips For Prevention

Wednesday, January 17, 2007 - 9:34am

By Michèle Turcotte, MS, RD/LDN

Osteoporosis is a major public health threat for 44 million Americans. It’s a women's health issue because 68% of sufferers are women. Did you know that one out of every two women over 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime? This calculates to more than 1.5 million fractures each year and half of all women! Osteopenia is a related condition and refers to mild bone loss. While osteopenia does not always progress to osteoporosis, it does make you more susceptible to developing osteoporosis. Both osteopenia and osteoporosis involve deterioration in the structure of the bone tissue, an increase in bone fragility and an increased risk of fractures (especially the hip, spine and wrist). In general, bones become thinner and weaker with age. Women experience a significant decline in bone mass during and after menopause (due to decreased production of estrogen).

Preventing osteoporosis

Preventing and lowering your risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia involves healthy lifestyle habits from early on, including a nutritious diet including plenty of calcium and vitamin D and weight-bearing exercise (such as walking and weight training). You should be getting approximately 1200-1500 milligrams of calcium daily. One of the best ways to prevent osteoporosis is to ensure that you get enough calcium throughout you life. Dairy products, leafy green vegetables and calcium supplements all are good sources of calcium.

Warning signs of osteoporosis

Broken bones are a warning sign of osteoporosis. However, breaking a bone isn’t an indication that you have osteoporosis; instead it may mean you have a tendency towards weaker bones. Other warning signs of osteoporosis include a family history of osteoporosis or hip fractures (which increases your risk of developing osteoporosis by approximately 60%). Not consuming enough calcium, smoking and drinking alcohol in excess are also risk factors. Smoking doubles your risk of suffering an osteoporosis-related fracture because it inhibits your ability to absorb calcium, damages bone cells and prevents new bone growth. People who drink too much alcohol on a regular basis are prone to bone loss and fractures due to poor nutrition; they also run a greater risk of falling.

Other warning signs of osteoporosis include being thinner than normal (a thin body frame means you have less muscle and fat protecting your bones), persistent back pain (which could mean you have a spinal fracture), and a decrease in height. While you may joke about getting shorter, it is true! As you age, the disks in your back lose their elasticity and cause your frame to shift downward. It is not uncommon to lose anywhere from a half inch to a full inch in height between the ages of 60 and 80. However, spinal fractures caused by osteoporosis can also collapse the spine onto itself, which will cause you to shrink.

Some medications increase your risk of developing osteoporosis

These medications can cause bone loss and increase your risk of developing osteoporosis:

  • Glucocorticoids (cortisone-type medications)
  • Seizure treatments (carbamezapine and phenytoin)
  • Excessive thyroid medication
  • Certain transplant medications

Conculsion: osteoporosis can be prevented or postponed

Be aware of your risks for developing osteoporosis and take action now. There are many ways you can prevent or delay onset of this crippling disease.

For more information on lowering your risk of osteoporosis see the following article from TheDietChannel: Osteoporosis: How to Ensure Osteoporosis Doesnt' Happen to You.


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2. Looker AC, Orwoll ES, Johnston CC, Jr., Lindsay RL, Wahner HW, Dunn WL, Calvo MS, Harris TB, Heyse SP. Prevalence of low femoral bone density in older U.S. adults from NHANES III. J Bone Miner Res 1997; 12:1761-1768.