What Is Osteoporosis?
Your bones are the framework of your life. They support your body and give it structure. They protect your internal organs. They help you stand, sit, and walk. In fact, they are essential to every move you make, big or small.
Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bones become thin and can break easily. If not managed properly, osteoporosis can lead to fractures that can limit your ability to move, walk, and stay active.
Although many people may think of osteoporosis as a disease that occurs only late in life, a common form of the disease, postmenopausal osteoporosis, affects many women starting around age 50.
How Postmenopausal Osteoporosis Happens
Bone is a living tissue that is always changing. After menopause, the decrease in estrogen triggers a rise in cells that break down bone tissue. Bone loss occurs faster than bone formation. For many women, the result is decreased bone density and strength. This can lead to an increased risk for fracturing, or breaking, a bone.
Not all women get osteoporosis after menopause. But for those who have the disease, the effects of declining estrogen can be swift: Women can lose as much as 20% of their bone mass in the first 5 to 7 years after menopause.
The good news: you can keep your bones strong and help protect yourself against postmenopausal osteoporosis.
Potential Effects of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is often called a “silent” disease. You can’t feel your bones getting weaker. And unless you’ve had a bone fracture, you may have no pain at all. For many women, osteoporosis has no symptoms.
That’s why bone density tests are so important to find out if you have osteoporosis. If you are being managed for postmenopausal osteoporosis, routine bone density tests can tell if your bones are getting stronger and if your management plan is working.
The hip, spine, and wrist are where most osteoporosis-related fractures occur, but any bones can be affected. With osteoporosis, bones can break from a minor fall or, in severe cases, even from a simple action such as sneezing.
The ultimate goal of osteoporosis management is to prevent fractures. Osteoporosis-related fractures can limit your ability to move freely and keep up with your day-to-day activities. A hip fracture, for example, usually requires surgery and hospitalization. Other types of breaks can keep you in a cast for weeks or even months. By keeping your bones strong, you can help reduce your risk of fractures.
Help Increase Fracture Awareness
Sharing your knowledge about fractures can also help other women who have osteoporosis. According to the 2004 Surgeon General’s Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis, about half of women age 50 and over will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime. Yet research shows that many women diagnosed with osteoporosis don’t think they are at higher risk for fractures than women without the disease.
Making a friend or loved one aware of fracture risks can help her see the importance of improving her bone health.
Key Ways to Stay in Control of Your Bone Health
There are many things you can do to make your bones stronger and keep them strong. To manage your postmenopausal osteoporosis successfully, you’ll want to do the following:
- Test Your Bones: Learn why a 15-minute test at your doctor’s office every two years or more frequently, as recommended by your doctor, can make a major difference in your bone health management.
- Manage Your Medication: If you take medication for your osteoporosis, learn about the importance of following your doctor’s instructions closely.
- Eat Smart & Stay Active: Get quick summaries on how much calcium, vitamin D, and exercise you need for bone health—and the best ways to get each.
- Talk With Your Doctor: Identify the bone health issues most important to you, and access a helpful tool for making your next doctor visit a productive one.
Your bones continue to change over time. They may get weaker, putting you at higher risk for a fracture. They may stay about the same for a while. They may also get stronger as a result of your management plan for postmenopausal osteoporosis.
How can you know if your bones are improving? One way is to have routine bone density tests.
Performed on a regular basis (generally every 2 years or more frequently, as recommended by your doctor), repeat tests can show if your bone density has increased, decreased, or stayed the same. This is valuable information to have. It can help you and your doctor determine if your current management plan is working well—or if you should consider another plan of action.
If you’re overdue for a bone density test, talk to your doctor about scheduling one soon. It’s the best way to ensure that you know your bones.
Understanding Bone Density Test Results
Although there are many types of bone density tests, dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, or DXA (pronounced “DEXA”), is the gold standard and the preferred choice for repeat testing.
One of the results from a DXA scan is your T-score. The table below outlines what the numbers mean.
The lower your T-score, the lower your bone density.
Note: These are general guidelines only. To determine what your test results may mean, talk with your doctor.
Tips for Repeat Bone Density Testing
Follow these guidelines for repeat testing:
- If you are taking an osteoporosis medication, you should work with your doctor to schedule your repeat bone scans. Most women have a scan every 2 years, although in some cases a doctor may recommend more frequent tests.
- If your bone density is not improving, ask your doctor if there is anything else that you should do.
Recipe for High-Calcium Lasagne*
(Serves 8 or 9), 420 mg calcium
9-12 lasagne noodles
1 can (19 oz.) white or navy beans
8 oz. firm tofu, crumbled
4 cups collard greens (packed), lightly steamed, and finely chopped
2 cans (19 oz. each) pasta sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 1/2 cups shredded soy cheese
Preheat oven to 350° F.
In a pot of boiling salted water, cook lasagna noodles 8 to 10 minutes or until tender but firm; drain. Rinse under cold running water, drain, and set aside.
In a large bowl, mash cooked beans. Add tofu; mix well. Stir in collard greens, pasta sauce, and garlic.
Pour mixture into a 13×9-inch baking dish, just coating the bottom. Layer with noodles, then sauce, then soy cheese. Repeat layering until all ingredients are used up. Reserve soy cheese for top layer. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes.
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