Osteoporosis is a debilitating bone-thinning disease in which the skeleton becomes so fragile that even the slightest trauma can cause a bone to fracture. It progresses gradually and painlessly, so that people are often unaware they have osteoporosis until they suffer a painful fracture.
The disease affects 28 million Americans, 80 percent of whom are women. One and a half million Americans will suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture this year; one out of two women and one out of eight men will have a fracture caused by osteoporosis in their lifetime.
After menopause, almost all women are at increased risk of developing osteoporosis, and there are other factors that may increase the risk further such as low body weight, certain medical conditions and medications, family history, and smoking and alcohol use. Osteoporosis develops less often in men because they have larger skeletons, bone loss starts later and progresses more slowly, and there is no period of rapid hormonal change and accompanying rapid bone loss.
Many people think that it is an inevitable part of aging, but you can dramatically reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis by building and maintaining strong bones. Bone loss occurs without symptoms and it begins as early as in your 30s. Whatever your age, now is the time to begin preventing osteoporosis by eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, exercising regularly, not smoking, and limiting your intake of alcohol. Doing weight-bearing exercise (exercise that forces you to work against gravity) such as walking, tennis, golf or hiking is essential in building and maintaining strong bones.
Experts say most women do not drink enough milk or eat enough dairy products to get the recommended amount of calcium. Teenage girls need between 1,200 and 1,500 milligrams of calcium a day, and adult women ages 20-50 need about 1000 milligrams a day.
Anyone who suspects they may be at risk of developing osteoporosis should discuss any concerns with a physician. A bone mass measurement can measure bone density in various parts of the body, and medical treatments are available that may help slow progression of the disease.
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