Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones, increasing the risk of sudden and unexpected fractures. Literally meaning "porous bone," osteoporosis results in an increased loss of bone mass and strength. The disease often progresses without any symptoms or pain.
Many times, osteoporosis is not discovered until weakened bones cause painful fractures usually in the back or hips. Unfortunately, once you have a broken bone due to osteoporosis, you are at high risk of having another. And these fractures can be debilitating. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent osteoporosis from ever occurring. And treatments can slow the rate of bone loss if you already have osteoporosis.
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Experts debate the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy, but everyone, including the FDA, agrees that it definitely helps with two conditions: the symptoms of menopause and osteoporosis.
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Though we do not know the exact cause of osteoporosis, we do know how the disease develops. Your bones are made of living, growing tissue. An outer shell of cortical or dense bone encases trabecular bone, a sponge-like bone. When a bone is weakened by osteoporosis, the "holes" in the "sponge" grow larger and more numerous, weakening the internal structure of the bone.
Until about age 30, a person normally builds more bone than he or she loses. During the aging process, bone breakdown begins to outpace bone buildup, resulting in a gradual loss of bone mass. Once this loss of bone reaches a certain point, a person has osteoporosis.
How Is Osteoporosis Related to Menopause?
There is a direct relationship between the lack of estrogen during perimenopause and menopause and the development of osteoporosis. Early menopause (before age 40) and any prolonged periods in which hormone levels are low and menstrual periods are absent or infrequent can cause loss of bone mass.
What Are the Symptoms of Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is often called the "silent disease" because initially bone loss occurs without symptoms. People may not know that they have osteoporosis until their bones become so weak that a sudden strain, bump, or fall causes a fracture or a vertebra to collapse. Collapsed vertebrae may initially be felt or seen in the form of severe back pain, loss of height, or spinal deformities such as stooped posture.