Women grow their bone mass until approx. age 20. Their bones hold their strength until approx. age 35. Then they begin to weaken. Once a woman is post-menopausal (not had a period for 1 year), she will be at a higher risk due to the loss of hormones.
Osteoporosis is a silent disease. It does not manifest itself until you break a bone. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 24% of people who break a hip from Osteoporosis will die within the 1st year following that fracture. That's 1 in 4.
There are other factors that will put you at risk for Osteoporosis. Medications such as chemotherapy drugs, thyroid drugs, acid reducers, anti-depressants, anti-seizure medication, blood thinners, steroids or transplant medicines, and synthetic retinoids can weaken your bones quicker than normal. Ask your doctor if the medication you are taking affects your bones.
Excessive alcoholism is another risk factor.
One of the biggest risk factors is smoking, especially if you smoked before age 20. Smoking inhibits the production of osteoblasts which is what builds your bones. If you smoked before age 20, your bones may already be weaker than normal even before menopause or other risk factors. In fact, smokers are twice as likely to break a bone from Osteoporosis than non-smokers.
What can we do? Talk to your doctor. Ask them to order a bone density scan. A bone density scan can tell you what the strength of your bones is in comparison to normal bones at your age, weight, and height. Most insurance companies will pay for a bone density scan every 2 years if you are post-menopausal, or if you meet other risk factors. The same is true for Medicare.
Once you have a bone density scan, if you are diagnosed with either Osteopenia or Osteoporosis, your doctor may prescribe some medication for you. This medication is designed to help your bones maintain their strength. Some medicines even claim to re-build your bones.
If you do not meet any of the risk factors now, you will still want to take care of your bones. Calcium with vitamin D helps maintain your bone strength. Also, weight-bearing exercise such as walking and stair climbing will keep your bones strong.
For more information on bone health, visit www.nof.org.