Osteoporosis is a term that refers to the weakening of bones due to the loss of calcium. The subsequent loss of bone mass leads to bone weakness and an increased risk of fractures.
Osteoporosis occurs more commonly in women than in men. This is due to the fact that women have less bone mass than men, tend to live longer, take in less calcium, and need the female hormone estrogen to keep their bones strong. Total bone mass often peaks in the late 20s or early 30s, and then begins to decline slowly. In women, the rate of bone loss speeds up after menopause, when estrogen levels decline. Bone loss may also occur prematurely if a woman has her ovaries surgically removed.
Risk factors for osteoporosis include the following:
- Menopause before age 48
- Surgery to remove ovaries before menopause
- Not getting enough dietary calcium and vitamin D
- Not getting enough exercise
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Alcohol abuse
- Thin body and small bone frame
- Fair skin (white or Asian race)
- Long-term use of oral steroids
- Prior bone fracture as an adult
Screening for osteoporosis in women starts at age 65. If a woman has several risk factors for osteoporosis, screening may occur earlier. Men should be screened if they have any of the risk factors listed above. Screening is usually done with a bone density test called a DEXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan, which takes a "picture" of the bones. The DEXA scan can show thinning of the bones (osteopenia) as well as osteoporosis. Ask about scheduling your DEXA scan at our on-site scanner at Castle Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, S.C.