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Sally Field: An Osteoporosis Story

The actress known for playing strong women tells of her battle against a bone-thinning disease.

Osteoporosis: How It Happens continued...

It has been a few years since it was learned that hormone replacement therapy might be doing more harm than good. That was when a major government trial, known as the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), linked the long-term use of combined estrogen and progestin as menopausal therapy to an increased risk of heart diseaseheart disease, as well as strokestroke and breast cancerbreast cancer.

Field says taking HRT helped her bones as well. It was when she stopped, however, that she says her bone problems really took hold.

"When I completely went off HRT, my bone densitybone density took a really big dive and my doctor noticed it," says Field.

Since tests showed she was also low on vitamin D -- necessary to utilize calcium -- her doctors also recommended vitamin D supplements. While Field was hopeful they would work, those hopes were soon dashed.

"Eight months later, we tested again -- and the bone mass went down even more significantly," Field tells WebMD.

It was then that her doctor told her she had developed osteoporosis.

"It was the full-fledged condition. No longer just a risk, it happened," says Field.

Getting Treated

While some might take the news simply as a sign of getting older, Field had other ideas. Taking a decidedly proactive stance, she was determined to learn all she could about osteoporosisosteoporosis -- and to do whatever it took to stop it from affecting her life.

After talking with her doctor she chose to treat her osteoporosis with the new once-monthly medication Boniva -- a drug that works to slow bone loss, so the body's natural bone production can pull ahead.

Later, when approached by the makers of Boniva (Roche and GlaxoSmithKline) to spearhead an awareness campaign about osteoporosis, she jumped at the opportunity. Roche and GlaxoSmithKline are also WebMD sponsors.

"At first I was nervous. I thought, this is a big pill -- and I worried something bad would happen," says Field. Indeed, side effects to Boniva can include stomach upset, muscle pain, even ulcersulcers.

Still, when she weighed her fears against what could happen if she didn't take charge, she says the medicine won.

People at Risk

Today Field says she's happy and relieved to be well on her way back to good bone health. But she also says this is not a journey she wants to take alone.

"AgingAging successfully isn't just about looking good, it's about having a good solid feeling about your health and yourself as a healthy person," says Field, who is asking women to take action by talking to their doctors and joining her in a commitment to better bone health.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) Field's audience will be vast: Some 10 million women are already diagnosed with osteoporosis, with another 34 million at risk. Though men can develop this condition, they account for less than 20% of diagnosed cases.

In addition to gender, NOF says other risk factors include advancing age, heredity, having a small, thin, frame, low estrogen levels, and a lifetime of low calcium and vitamin D intake. Heavy use of alcohol and cigarettes, alone or in combination with an inactive lifestyle, also play a role.

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