Osteoporosis: Know Your Risk

Women's Health Monthly: October 2016

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that half of Americans over 50 will be at risk for fractures related to osteoporosis during their lifetime. By age 65, the risk is high enough that health care providers recommend bone loss screenings for everyone.

Greater Risk for Women

For women, the risk for osteoporotic fractures is even higher. "As women's estrogen levels decline, bone mass also declines," says Elizabeth Haney, M.D., general internal medicine provider and osteoporosis expert at OHSU.

"Women with additional risk factors should be screened even earlier, at age 60," Dr. Haney says. These additional risk factors include early menopause, use of anti-estrogen medications such as those that treat breast cancer, bone fractures, or conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

What to Expect

At a bone screening, a machine will be used to take images of the lower spine and hip. Women with normal results and no risk factors won't need re-screened for as many as 15 years.

If your screening does detect bone loss, talk to your provider about next steps.

"There may be additional testing to find a cause," says Dr. Haney. One common cause is low levels of Vitamin D. Dr. Haney recommends all women over age 50 get 600-800 IU of Vitamin D daily, as well as 1200mg of calcium, ideally from their diet.

For women with severe bone loss, there are medications that can help. "These medications are very effective at preventing fractures," Dr. Haney says.

Reduce Your Risk

Menopause and aging are part of life, but there are still ways to support your bone health and reduce your risk of osteoporotic fracture.

  • Good Nutrition – Eat a healthy diet that includes the recommended levels of Vitamin D and calcium.
  • Exercise – Spend 30 minutes each day exercising, and include activities that improve your balance and core strength. This will help prevent falls which can lead to fractures.
  • Don't smoke – Smoking and excessive alcohol use can both lead to increased bone loss.
  • Be informed – The National Osteoporosis Foundation is an excellent resource to learn more.

While some bone loss is a natural part of aging, osteoporosis is treatable and fractures can be prevented. It's important to understand your risk. Dr. Haney uses FRAX, a fracture risk calculator, in her practice, and it's available online. Try it yourself or ask your provider to calculate your FRAX score.

 

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