A woman's chances of getting the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis go up with age, especially after menopause. But it’s not uncommon for women to get the condition before menopause, called premenopausal osteoporosis or bone loss.
As your bones become thinner with osteoporosis, they break more easily. For millions of older adults, mostly women, everyday activities like standing, walking, and bending may be enough to cause a broken bone.
No matter your age, many things can help you treat osteoporosis and prevent more bone loss.
Signs of Premenopausal Osteoporosis
You can have osteoporosis at any age and not know it -- there are often no symptoms. For many women, the first sign that they have the condition is a broken bone.
Osteoporosis tends to affect the specific bones that let us be active -- the bones of the spine, wrists, shoulders, pelvis, and hips. These fractures can change the shape of your body, especially when they affect the spine.
The age at which someone loses bone depends on their specific risk factors. One woman might be in their 40s or 50s with very strong bones while another can be in their 30s and have early signs of premenopausal osteoporosis, including fractures.
After many years, your bones become thin enough that they break from minor causes. For example, you might trip over a crack in the sidewalk and fracture your ankle. Or lifting a bag of potting soil might cause a wrist fracture.
The first fracture will usually heal. But as long as the bones are thin and weak, they are more likely to fracture again, which could get more painful and limit your movement as time goes on.
Who Gets Premenopausal Osteoporosis?
Things that make you more likely to get the condition include:
- a family history of osteoporosis or fractures
- a history of eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia
- a history of other diseases, including kidney disease, celiac disease, thyroid disease, and connective tissue disorders
- your periods become irregular over the course of more than 12 months (except during pregnancy)
- long-term lack of exercise or overtraining
- smoking for a long time
- not getting enough calcium
- taking specific drugs, including steroids, antiseizure meds, some chemotherapy drugs, and long-term use of the blood thinner heparin.
- weighing less than 127 pounds
While you can control some risk factors, some you can't change. For example, you can't change your family history. Or you may get cancer and need chemotherapy to treat it.
Lower Your Risk
Since there are some risk factors you can't change, you need to focus on what you can change. You can choose healthy habits that promote good bone health, such as:
- Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. If you can't get enough of these nutrients in the foods you eat, talk to your doctor to see if supplements are right for you.
- Get regular exercise. You'll need a combination of weight-bearing exercise (dancing, jogging, tennis) and weight training. But watch out for overtraining, which may raise your chances of developing osteoporosis by lowering your body’s estrogen levels.
- Don’t drink too much alcohol.
- Don't smoke.
- Take osteoporosis medications, if you need them.
Screening for Premenopausal Osteoporosis
Women that are not of menopausal age usually do not get bone density testing unless a fracture happens that could indicate a problem. If low bone density for your age is found, then your doctor can discuss your treatment options.
If you have a higher risk for premenopausal osteoporosis, bone density testing may help you and your doctor detect bone loss early. Then you can take steps to help preserve the bone you have. Ask your doctor if you should be screened if any of these apply to you:
- You’ve taken steroid drugs such as prednisone for a long time
- You have one of the diseases linked with bone loss, including thyroid disease or rheumatoid arthritis
- You've had early menopause
How Is Premenopausal Osteoporosis Treated?
Several treatment options for osteoporosis may slow and even reverse bone loss.
If you have taken steroids, your doctor may prescribe a type of drug called a bisphosphonate, such as risedronic acid (Actonel), alendronate (Binosto), alendronic acid (Fosamax), or ibandronic acid (Boniva). These drugs have been shown to help stop osteoporosis. Other drugs are also available that help build bone and prevent further bone loss.
No matter what causes your premenopausal osteoporosis, the best thing you can do is live a lifestyle that promotes good bone health.