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Osteoporosis Health Center

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Causes of Osteoporosis

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How Common Is Osteoporosis Today?

With the aging of America, osteoporosis is becoming increasingly common. Among people ages 50 and older, 55% are at significant risk for osteoporosis. In the U.S., more than 10 million men and women have osteoporosis. And nearly another 34 million are thought to have low bone mass. That places them at increased risk for osteoporosis.

Risk Factors for Osteoporosis

The rate of bone loss varies from person to person. But around midlife, bones become thinner. How fast or how slow you lose bone depends on a number of factors

  • Your activity level
  • How much calcium you get
  • Your family history
  • Your history of taking certain medications
  • Your lifestyle habits, such as whether you smoke or how much alcohol you consume
  • The onset of menopause

Menopause, Estrogen, and Osteoporosis

Estrogen is important for maintaining bone density in women. When estrogen levels drop after menopause, bone loss speeds up. This can happen with natural menopause or an early surgical menopause if you have your ovaries removed.

During the first five to 10 years after menopause, women can lose about 2.5% of bone density each year. That means they can lose as much as 25% of their bone density during that time.

Accelerated bone loss after menopause is a major cause of osteoporosis in women. For women, having the strongest bones possible before you enter menopause is the best protection against debilitating fractures.

Can Osteoporosis Be Prevented?

About half of all women over age 50 and about one in four men will break a bone due to osteoporosis. But there are many things you can do to prevent osteoporosis and avoid painful fractures. For instance, make sure you get plenty of calcium in your daily diet. You can get calcium from both foods and supplements. You can also check your osteoporosis risk factors and change those you can control. For example, stop smoking if you are a smoker. If you need them, your health care provider can make recommendations about using osteoporosis medications.

A very important thing you can do is be sure to get plenty of exercise. Weight-bearing exercises stimulate the cells that make new bone. By increasing weight-bearing exercises, you encourage your body to form more bone. This can delay or even reverse the destructive process of osteoporosis that results in painful or debilitating fractures. By adding strength training to your exercise routine, you improve your muscle strength and flexibility and reduce the likelihood of falling. Talk to your health care provider about suitable exercise options for you.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on November 18, 2015
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