Osteoporosis FAQs

By Menopause Now Editorial Team | Updated: Sep 02, 2019


Because osteoporosis can be one of the most serious menopause symptoms, many women want to know more about this degenerative disease. Fortunately, by better understanding osteoporosis, women can prevent its onset and progression. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about regarding osteoporosis.

Q: What Is Osteoporosis?

A: Osteoporosis, which means "porous bone", is a disease that weakens bones and increases the risk of sudden and unexpected fractures. Although it often progresses without any symptoms or pain, the bones gradually lose mass and strength. Generally, osteoporosis is not discovered until weakened bones cause painful bone fractures, usually in the back or hips.

Q: Who Is Most at Risk for Osteoporosis?

A: Women, who make up 80% of all osteoporosis sufferers, are most at risk. Women undergoing menopause who are older than 50 years old are even more at risk than younger women. This is because female hormonal levels, particularly estrogen, drop as menopause approaches. Estrogen is an important for bone growth because it regulates the bone growth cycle. With low estrogen levels, bones lose mass and become weak. Other risk factors include family history, body type, race and ethnicity, history of broken bones, diseases and conditions, inactive lifestyle, smoking, and alcohol abuse.

Read below to find out what the symptoms of osteoporosis are.

Q: What Are the Symptoms of Osteoporosis?

A: One of the main issues with the onset of osteoporosis is that many people who begin developing it remain unaware they are afflicted until they experience a bone fracture. For this reason, it's important to take a proactive approach against osteoporosis. Symptoms generally begin to occur late in the disease when there are not many options to regain the necessary bone density. Below are the common symptoms that can indicate osteoporosis.

  • Loss of height as the result of a weakened spine
  • Fractured bones, especially hip bones
  • Cramps in the legs at night
  • Fatigue
  • Bone pain and tenderness
  • Neck, spine, and lower back pain
  • Abdominal pain and rib pain
  • Tooth loss and periodontal disease
  • Brittle fingernails

Spinal deformities like stooped posture - an outward curve at the top of the spine as a result of developing a vertebral collapse - may also become evident.

Read below to find out how menopause affects the health and strength of bones.

Q: What Are the Effects of Menopause on Bone Health?

A: Bone health is inextricably linked to hormones. For this reason, women make up about 80% of osteoporosis sufferers, and a large percentage of those women have finished the menopause transition and experienced changes in hormone levels. Estrogen is the predominant hormone that declines with the onset of menopause and puts women at a much higher risk of developing osteoporosis.

Did You Know?

One in three women over 50 years old will experience a bone fracture as a result of osteoporosis.

Estrogen levels in postmenopausal women are about one-tenth the amount present in premenopausal women. Without adequate levels of estrogen, bones are unable to absorb the proper amounts of calcium to replenish bone mass as cells naturally die. The body also has trouble controlling the amount of bone cells that are destroyed without estrogen to regulate the function.

Estrogen's most important effect on osteoporosis appears to be prevention of bone breakdown, known as resorption. Healthy bones require a balance of osteoclasts (cells that break down bones) and osteoblasts (cells that make new bone). As estrogen levels diminish, osteoclasts live longer than their counterparts, osteoblasts. This leads to bones being broken down at a rate much greater than they can be rebuilt, ultimately making the bones weaker. Read below to find out other causes of osteoporosis.

Q: What Else Causes Osteoporosis?

A: Researchers agree that the primary cause of osteoporosis in women as they surpass age 50 is diminished hormonal levels, particularly estrogen levels. However, there are other contributing factors that can lead to osteoporosis, including:

  • Diseases. Many diseases can hamper the growth of new bone material. Some of these diseases are hyperthyroidism, disorders of the adrenal glands (such as Cushing's syndrome), disorders of the pituitary gland, diabetes, and eating disorders.

  • Medications. Some medications can reduce the bones' ability to rebuild themselves, such as glucocorticoid medications, prednisolone, excess thyroid hormone replacement, the blood thinner heparin, and certain anticonvulsant medications.

  • Insufficient bone growth as a youth. Bones that didn't get enough calcium early in life have a higher likelihood of becoming osteoporotic and fracturing as estrogen levels begin to decrease.

  • Genetic factors. If a woman's family members, especially her mother, have suffered from osteoporosis, the likelihood that she will develop the disease jumps dramatically. Genetics also determine the body type of a woman. If she inherited a small, thin body type, she is predisposed to osteoporosis.

Q: Are There Other Steps That Can Be Taken to Prevent Osteoporosis or Keep it From Worsening?

A: Yes. There are some preventative steps that can be taken to keep osteoporosis at bay. While the best way to prevent osteoporosis is to have adequate calcium levels as a teenager or young adult, women of menopausal or postmenopausal age can take steps to slow the deterioration of bone mass.

Did You Know?

Osteoarthritis, sometimes confused with osteoporosis, is an inflammation of the joints due to aging, wear and tear, or injury.

It is imperative to get enough calcium. Calcium is the most important factor in healthy, strong bones. Here are the recommended amounts of calcium per day depending on an individual's age:

  • 1 - 3 years old: 500 mg
  • 4 - 8 years old: 800 mg
  • 9 - 18 years old: 1,300 mg
  • 19 - 50 years old: 1,000 mg
  • 51 and older: 1,200 mg

Vitamin D is also essential because it helps calcium get absorbed into the bones.

Adequate physical activity is also crucial for osteoporosis prevention. Weight-bearing exercise helps to keep bones dense and strong. This includes jogging, jumping, stair climbing, push-ups, and other forms of exercise that make the bones and muscles support weight, including the body's own weight.

Excessive alcohol consumption can kill the cells that rebuild bones. Too much alcohol can also limit the amount of estrogen in the body. Likewise, smoking can also decrease the body's estrogen levels.

It is also important maintain a healthy body weight and not skip meals or lose too much weight later in life. Weight loss almost surely signifies a loss of bone mass, which puts the individual at risk of developing osteoporosis.

Q: What Treatments Are Available for Osteoporosis?

Did You Know?

There is a range of drug treatment available for postmenopausal osteoporosis. Different studies have consistently shown that, depending on the drug and the patient population, treatment reduces the risk of vertebral fracture by between 30-65% and of non-vertebral fractures by between 16-53%.

A: There are several treatment options available for osteoporosis sufferers. Doctors typically recommend that women begin with the least obtrusive options and move on to more risky treatments if necessary. That means lifestyle changes should be explored first and foremost, such as eating a healthy, well-balanced diet rich in calcium. Weight-bearing exercises are also recommended as a lifestyle change to treat osteoporosis.

Next, alternative medicines, such as herbs and supplements, are recommended after lifestyle changes. The best treatment option includes combining lifestyle changes and alternative medicines. Because osteoporosis is largely caused by hormonal imbalance, herbs that stimulate hormone production to treat the source of osteoporosis are the most used. Calcium supplements are also good for osteoporosis.

The final level of treatment is medications. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) falls into this category and has helped many women with their osteoporosis. However, this kind of treatment comes with the most health risks and side effects. For advanced osteoporosis, medications may be the best option.

Q: What Are the Best Ways to Cope with Osteoporosis?

Three approaches can be considered for treating osteoporosis: (1) lifestyle changes, (2) alternative medicine, and (3) medications. Most experts recommend that women begin with the least aggressive approach and move to the next level of treatment only if symptoms persist. Click on treatments for osteoporosis to learn more about the different approaches.

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