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Osteoporosis is a bone disease that makes your bones so weak and porous that they break very easily during daily activities. Osteoporosis is directly related to the thickness and health of your bones when you were younger. Many people believe osteoporosis is due to the natural process of aging in women, and a decrease in the hormone estrogen. Most experts agree that osteoporosis can be prevented by getting enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet and by living a healthy and active lifestyle. Women are more prone to developing osteoporosis than men because they generally have less bone mass. Risks for osteoporosis are directly related to family history. If you have one or more family members who have had osteoporosis, you're at an increased risk for developing osteoporosis yourself. Osteoporosis is often called a "silent disease" because bone loss occurs without noticeable symptoms. However, osteoporosis manifests in the form of easily broken bones (particularly in the spine, hip and wrist), back pain, height reduction and back curvature. If you have osteoporosis, you'll be treated with calcium and vitamin D fortification as well as exercise and medication to help improve bone mass. Your doctor will discuss manageable lifestyle and health changes to help keep the effects of osteoporosis under control.

Who's at Risk?
Women – 80% of people affected by osteoporosis are women. Women generally have less bone tissue and lose bone more quickly than men because of changes associated with menopause.

Older people – The older you are, the greater your risk of developing osteoporosis.

People with a family history of osteoporosis – Weak bones may be a hereditary trait. Young women whose mothers have a history of fractures often have reduced bone mass themselves.

Small-boned and thin women (under 127 pounds)

Menopausal or post-menopausal women – When a woman goes through menopause, her body rapidly loses estrogen and as a result her bones become weaker, putting her more at risk for osteoporosis. Women who stop having a period before menopause because of anorexia, bulimia or excessive exercise also lose bone tissue more quickly.

Smokers, excessive drinkers and people who are inactive

People with chronic illness – A frequently overlooked risk factor for osteoporosis is the use of certain medications to treat chronic diseases. Medications for rheumatoid arthritis, endocrine disorders, seizure disorders and gastrointestinal diseases may have side effects that can damage bone tissue.

Bone Density Tests
The only way to find out if you have osteoporosis is to talk to your doctor about participating in a bone density test. Because osteoporosis can develop undetected for decades before you actually have a fracture, it is important to diagnose the condition early. A bone density test is accurate, painless and noninvasive.

You should consider having a bone density test if you are:

  • Over 65 years of age
  • Between the ages of 60 and 64, weigh less than 154 pounds, and don't take estrogen
  • Postmenopausal with one or more additional risk factors for osteoporosis

Fall Prevention
Preventing a fall is important at any age, in any condition, but it is especially important to people with osteoporosis. Follow these steps to avoid common household hazards:

  • Floors – Make sure paths are clear from room to room. Keep furniture in its usual place. Secure throw rugs with double-sided tape or buy new rugs with non-slip backing. Keep clutter off the floor. Secure electrical cords and wires next to the wall. Make sure carpet lies flat, and only use non-skid wax on hardwood floors.
  • Lighting – Make sure halls, stairways and entrances are well lit. Install a night light in your bathroom. Turn lights on if you get up in the middle of the night
  • Stairways – Install handrails on both sides of the stairway. Make sure treads, rails and rugs are secure. Make sure no steps are broken. Keep stairs clear of items. Install light switches at both the top and bottom of stairways.
  • Kitchen – Install non-skid rubber mats near the sink and stove. Only use a step stool if it is steady and has a hold bar. Keep frequently used items within easy reach. Clean up spills immediately.
  • Living areas – Make sure chairs and tables are stable enough to support your weight if you had to lean on them. Remove or repair any broken furniture
  • Bathrooms – Install grab bars in the tub, shower and next to the toilet. Install non-skid tape in the tub and shower. Use a night light.
  • Bedroom – Avoid using satin or other slippery bed linen. Keep drawers closed. Make sure your bedside lamp is within easy reach. Make sure the path from the bedroom to the bathroom is well lit.
  • Other precautions – Wear sturdy, rubber soled shoes. Ask your doctor if any of your medications could cause you to fall (dizziness, drowsiness, etc.).

Click below to read about related topics.

Maintaining Healthy Bones
Vitamin D
Risks to Bone Health
Bone Health in Post-Menopausal Women