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What Women Need to Know about Osteoporosis


Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by weakening bones, which makes them fragile and more likely to break. This condition predominantly affects women, especially after menopause, due to the rapid decline in estrogen levels, which plays a crucial role in maintaining bone density. While osteoporosis can be a serious health concern, there are several steps women can take to protect themselves against it as they age.

What is osteoporosis

Osteoporosis means “porous bone.” When viewed under a microscope, healthy bone looks like a honeycomb. When osteoporosis occurs, the holes and spaces in the honeycomb are much larger than in healthy bone. This loss of bone density and structure weakens the bones, making them more prone to fractures, even from mild stresses.

The early stages of bone loss occur without symptoms. However, once bones have been weakened by osteoporosis, here are some potential signs and symptoms:

  • Back pain, caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra.
  • Loss of height over time.
  • A stooped posture.
  • A bone that breaks more easily than expected.

Risk Factors for Osteoporosis in Women

There are several factors that can contribute to why women are more likely to develop osteoporosis. These include:

  • Age: The risk of osteoporosis increases with age, especially after menopause.
  • Family History: Having a parent or sibling with osteoporosis puts you at a higher risk.
  • Body Size: Small, thin women are at greater risk.
  • Ethnicity: White and Asian women are at higher risk.
  • Hormone Levels: Estrogen, a hormone in women that protects bones, decreases sharply when women reach menopause, which can cause bone loss. This is why the chance of developing osteoporosis increases as women reach their late 50s and early 60s.
  • Dietary Factors: A diet low in calcium and vitamin D can contribute to weak bones.
  • Lifestyle Choices: Lack of exercise, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk.
  • Longer Life Span: Women have a longer life expectancy than men. Since bone loss happens naturally as we age, women are more likely to develop osteoporosis simply because they live longer.

Protecting Against Osteoporosis

While some risk factors, such as age and family history, cannot be changed, here are some strategies women can use to help keep their bones healthy and strong:

  • Dietary Changes: A balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is vital to bone health. Calcium supports your bones and teeth structure, while vitamin D improves calcium absorption and bone growth. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy green vegetables and fortified foods. Vitamin D can be obtained from sunlight, fatty fish and fortified foods.

    For those who find it challenging to get enough calcium or vitamin D in their diet, supplements might be an option. It is important to see your primary care doctor or advanced practice provider* (APP) before taking any supplements.

  • Regular Exercise: Engage in weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, dancing, or weight training. These activities help strengthen bones and improve balance, reducing the risk of falls.

  • Quit Smoking: Smoking can reduce bone density, so quitting can improve overall bone health.

  • Limit Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption can weaken bones, so it's important to drink in moderation.

  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Being underweight increases the risk of developing osteoporosis.

  • Bone Density Testing: Women over 65 should consider regular bone density testing to assess their risk of osteoporosis and determine the need for treatment. The tests can detect osteoporosis before a fracture occurs and predict one’s chances of fracturing in the future.

  • Medication: There are medications that can help prevent and treat osteoporosis. Bisphosphonates are the most common medications prescribed for osteoporosis treatment. Additionally, hormone-related therapy, such as estrogen, may help maintain bone density, but these treatments come with risks that need to be considered and discussed with your doctor or APP.

Early intervention and proactive management of osteoporosis can not only prevent fractures but also help women maintain their independence and quality of life as they age. That is why women should engage in regular discussions with their doctor or APP about bone health, especially as they approach menopause. It is important for women to remember their bones support them in every activity they undertake, and they should return the favor by taking good care of their bones.

*An advanced practice provider is defined as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant.