Women's Health: Taking Care

What our mothers couldn’t tell us . . . and our daughters need to know.

 

(page 2 of 5)

OSTEOPOROSIS

If it seems that grandma has gotten shorter, it’s probably because she has. Many women (and men) tend to shrink as they age, often a symptom of osteoporosis, a condition causing bones to become porous, weak and dangerously brittle, so brittle that a trip, a fall—or even simply bending over—can cause a fracture.

Although both men and women begin to lose some bone density around age 40, women are at greater risk for osteoporosis over the next 10 years, as estrogen levels drop, leading up to menopause. Osteoporosis is so pervasive in women that one in two over the age of 50 will sustain a fracture as a result of the condition, according to Michael Craig, M.D., medical director of orthopedics at the Danbury Hospital Center for Advanced Orthopedic Care.

Prevention is the key to defeating osteoporosis, says Craig. What can you do to build strong bones throughout your life? Take calcium and vitamin D (requirements are listed on the National Osteoporosis Foundation Web site, nof.org); do weight-bearing exercises regularly; avoid smoking and excessive alcohol. In addition, your doctor may advise you to have a bone-density test. This quick and noninvasive procedure—also called a densitometry or DXA scan—can reliably diagnose osteoporosis by using X-rays to measure how many grams of calcium and other minerals are present in a segment of bone.

While significant bone loss can never be reversed, there are options, including medications known as bisphosphonates (Boniva is one) that bind to certain cells in bones, slowing down the rate at which they break down. These drugs are not without controversy; some studies have shown they may cause pain and dental complications if taken for five years or more.

Because girls between ages 9 and 18 are in critical bone-building years, the NOF has launched “Best Bones Forever,” a health campaign that encourages girls to eat more foods with calcium and vitamin D and get more physical activity.

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