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Down to the Bone

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Here’s how to know whether you may get osteoporosis.

By Lauryn Lax

Osteoporosis is not just an “old-lady disease.” While osteoporosis is a disease most often associated with women older than age 50 due to the decline in estrogen, the bone-building hormone, younger women are not immune to the disease, particularly thinner females.

Our bones are in a constant state of renewal. New bone is made and old bone is broken down. When we’re kids and teens, our bodies make new bone faster than they break down old bone, and our bone mass increases a la the beauty that is growing pains. Most people reach their peak bone mass by their early 20s and, as people age, bone mass is lost faster than it’s created.

In regard to osteoporosis, this presentation is exaggerated as bone mass breaks down and density decreases. Osteoporosis is a condition that affects approximately one in two women. Moreover, 50 percent of these women will suffer from an osteoporosis-related fracture at some point in their lifetime, and another one in two women will experience decreased bone mass, known as osteopenia, before reaching osteoporosis.

As osteoporosis affects 80 percent more women than men, here’s how to know whether you’re being affected.

Diagnosis

Osteopenia is a precursor to osteoporosis, and both are diagnosed using bone-mineral-density scanning using a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, or DEXA, machine.

Risk factors

Women are at an increased risk for osteoporosis related to estrogen levels if they:

have had their ovaries removed

are going through menopause

are of Caucasian ethnicity

had their first period at a later age during puberty

experience irregular periods or amenorrhea (an abnormal absence of menstruation)

have a lower body weight

have a highly active lifestyle or exercise excessively

have a history of disordered eating

have an overactive thyroid, known as hyperthyroidism

have a health diagnosis of arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, low vitamin D status, autoimmune condition, gastroesophageal reflux disease or irritable bowel syndrome

keep a vegetarian or vegan diet

have low fat intake, particularly low intake of saturated fats and fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K

Common symptoms

Unlike a runny nose during a cold or experiencing joint pain with arthritis, osteoporosis symptoms are silent and often fly under the radar until a more serious injury, like a fracture or stress fracture, occurs.

Common symptoms to look out for that may suggest your likelihood of having the disease include:

easily getting stress fractures, especially in the feet or hips

shin splints

back pain caused by an undiagnosed collapsed vertebra or fracture

loss of height

a stooped posture

digestive distress (chronic bloating, constipation, IBS or GERD)

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