Your skeleton is a living thing which is continually renewing itself with new bone. The basic structure does not change with age but its density and strength reduces.
For some of us, the bone will be lost much faster than new bone can be formed to replace it. If this happens, bones can become so fragile that they are liable to break very easily. This condition is known as osteoporosis.
It is a silent disease which goes unnoticed and is usually painless in the early stages.It can begin anywhere from 5 to 20 years before the menopause.
The following place you at high risk of osteoporosis :
- Very early menopause before the age of 45. This causes early loss of oestrogen because your ovaries stop working.
- An early menopause before the normal age of 50. Early loss of oestrogen is likely, and certain if your ovaries are removed.
- Long-term use of high-dose corticosteroids (for conditions such as asthma and arthritis). Do not stop taking them as your doctor may be able to adjust your dosage to compensate for bone loss.
- Irregular or infrequent menstruation. This can happen naturally or be caused by over-exercising, if you are a dancer, or suffer from anorexia or bulimia. This results in low oestrogen levels similar to menopause, regardless of age.
- Disorders of the digestive system that cause malabsorption problems such as coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease or gastric surgery.
- Heavy smoking. This can damage bone-building cells and cause an early menopause.
- Low calcium intake. Consumption of milk and dairy products maintain bone density.
- Heavy drinking. Alcohol abuse destroys bone.
- Immobility. Bones need exercise to remain strong, so those who are bed or wheelchair bound are more at risk.
- Lack of sunshine. Exposure to sunlight is necessary for Vitamin D production which is essential for bone health as a bone hardener.
If you are aware of a history of osteoporosis in your family, you would be well advised to ask for bone density testing.
My mother is only 69 years old, yet she has a hunchback that results in severe back pain that prevents her from sitting for long periods of time.
She has lost 6 cm in height, has problems finding suitable clothing and can wear only sports shoes to prevent possible falls.
She was diagnosed as suffering from severe osteoporosis nearly 20 years after the onset of her menopause.
I am not taking any chances. I take HRT and daily calcium supplements, and undergo bone density testing every two years - Sarah (Israel)
Osteoporosis can be treated. There is a range of medications and treatments available which have been shown to be effective in slowing down or halting bone loss.Your bones can benefit from HRT but only if it is taken long-term.
The Framlingham Study (a long-term American health research project begun in 1948) revealed in 1993 that:
- Only women who had taken HRT for at least 7 years had significantly higher bone mineral density than women who had not taken it.
- The bone mineral density declined rapidly as soon as they stopped taking HRT.
- Even 7 years of HRT might be insufficient to protect women 75 years and older from fractures.