Osteoporosis is a silent, gradual loss of calcium and other bone minerals that leads to less dense, more fragile bones that are prone to breaking and shrinking. In the United States, about 8 million women have osteoporosis, compared with only 2 million men. Most women and men don’t even know they have osteoporosis until after they break a bone.
Even if you’re otherwise healthy and in great shape for your age, you could have osteoporosis or its precursor, osteopenia. That’s why our expert rheumatologists at Rheumatology Center of New Jersey recommend that women get regular bone-density scans starting at age 50. They may recommend your first bone scan (also called dual energy x-ray absorptiometry, or DXA scan) at age 35 if you have other risk factors.
If you’re a woman, you’re especially vulnerable to developing osteopenia and osteoporosis. Here are just a few of the reasons why you need to start thinking about your bone health no matter what your age or fitness level.
Women’s bones are smaller and lighter
Because most women are shorter and smaller than men, their bones are already lighter and more prone to breakage. If you weigh 127 pounds or less, your bones are especially at risk for developing osteoporosis. Doing weight-bearing exercises, such as lifting weights and running or walking, plus eating a calcium-rich diet can help your bones grow stronger when you’re young.
Menopause reduces bone-protecting hormones
If you’re in perimenopause or menopause, your body has slowed production of the hormone estrogen. Estrogen protects your bones from losing calcium. Without enough estrogen, you could lose as much as a quarter of your bone mass in the first 10 years of menopause, according to the Office on Women’s Health.
Getting a DXA scan at age 50 or when you go into menopause helps you understand what’s happening in your bones. We may recommend dietary and lifestyle changes as well as calcium supplements.
Pregnancy robs your bones of minerals
If you’re pregnant or nursing, you need to supplement your diet with calcium and vitamin D, which your growing baby uses to form healthy bones. If you don’t get enough of those vitamins and minerals from your diet, your body takes the calcium from your bones. But most women regain bone mass after childbirth, and pregnancy may protect against osteoporosis in the long term.
Women live longer than men
Women live, on average, almost five years longer than men do. While that’s great news if you’re female, it also means that you’re living longer with older bones.
Each year, you lose 2-3% of your bone mass. A longer life, therefore, puts you at increased risk for hip fractures and other debilitating bone fractures.
Other risk factors
While being female increases your risk for osteopenia and subsequent osteoporosis, you’re also more likely to lose bone if you have other risk factors. You’re most likely to develop osteoporosis if you:
- Are caucasian, Asian, or Latina
- Are overweight
- Smoke or drink alcohol excessively
- Have an eating disorder
- Have thyroid gland issues
- Don’t exercise enough
- Have a family history of osteoporosis
- Have certain underlying health conditions, such as diabetes
If you have two or more extra risk factors, we may recommend getting a DXA scan before menopause to evaluate the health of your bones as a baseline. Depending on your needs, we may recommend building up your bone health with:
- A calcium-rich diet
- Running, dancing, or walking
- Calcium supplements
- Vitamin D supplements
- Thyroid medications
- Hormone balancing
To make sure your bones are healthy and strong and to come up with a plan to prevent bone loss over the long term, call one of our offices today for an osteoporosis evaluation. You can also book an appointment online.