Osteoporosis affects both women and men, usually in later life. Approximately three million people in the UK suffer from this condition. If you have osteoporosis, your bones become thin and weak. You are also at risk of suffering bone fractures, even as a result of very minor falls or slight pressure on the bones. Osteoporosis tends to be a problem for post menopausal women in particular. A range of treatments are available for the condition, some of which are intended only for women after menopause.
Your bones are made of living tissue just like the rest of your body. As you get older, your body loses its ability to replace bone tissue as it gets worn out. If bones are to be repaired, they need to absorb minerals and proteins from your blood stream. We all know that calcium is ‘good' for our bones - this is because calcium is one of these vital bone-rebuilding minerals. As you age, your bones' capacity for absorbing calcium and other minerals decreases causing your bones to weaken to the point at which they break more easily.
The Menopause Connection
The levels of sex hormones produced by your body impact your bones' ability to absorb minerals from your blood. In menopausal and post menopausal women, the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone are either decreasing or already very low. It is this sudden drop in oestrogen levels which causes the bones to get thinner and weaker. Men don't experience anything like the sudden drop in hormone levels which comes with menopause. This may be one reason why fractures caused by osteoporosis are twice as common in women as in men. Other factors may be the fact the women live longer than men and therefore have more time for their bones to weaken, and that women have lower bone mass than men.
Osteoporosis symptoms are often not obvious until the condition has progressed to a more advanced stage. Some earlier symptoms include pain in the joints and, of course, broken bones, as well as problems standing or sitting up straight. Even if you don't have any of these symptoms but you are menopausal or post menopausal, you should speak to your doctor about osteoporosis prevention and treatment.
No preventative method can guarantee that you will not develop osteoporosis after menopause. There are steps you can take earlier in life, and continue to take even after menopause, to reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis or minimise the impact of the disease. These include:
- A healthy, balanced diet that is rich in calcium and vitamin D.
- Stopping smoking and reducing your alcohol intake.
- An active lifestyle, which includes plenty of weight-bearing exercise. Weight-bearing exercise is any form of physical effort which requires your bones to support your weight, such as walking and jogging. Sports such as swimming, during which your weight is supported by the water around you, and cycling, during which your weight is supported by your bicycle, are not forms of weight-bearing exercise.
Just as a decrease in oestrogen makes you more susceptible to osteoporosis, having higher levels of oestrogen in your body protects you from the disease. Therefore, women who have been exposed to the oestrogen hormone for a longer portion of their lives, such as women who begin menstruating at an early age, or experience menopause at a late age, have a lower risk of developing osteoporosis.
The treatments described here are only two of the treatments available for osteoporosis. These particular treatments are relevant to women whose osteoporosis is related to menopause.
Hormone Replacement Therapy - HRT is a treatment commonly offered to menopausal women to relieve their symptoms (hot flushes, etc). It also replaces the body's oestrogen levels and therefore boosts bone density. HRT carries certain risks for the patient. You should discuss these with your doctor and, if you have concerns, consider other forms of hormone treatment that may be available.
Oestrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs) - SERMs have the same effect as the oestrogen hormone on your bones. This treatment helps your bones to rebuild and repair themselves and reduces your risk of fractures.
Connect with other women about the various treatments for menopause symptoms in our menopause forum.