Risk Factors and Symptoms of Osteoporosis
It is estimated that one in three women over age 50 have osteoporosis. Knowing the risk factors and symptoms of osteoporosis can help women take measures to increase bone density before the effects become devastating.
The risk factors for osteoporosis are divided into two categories: those that cannot be changed such as gender, race, and family history and those that can be changed such as alcohol consumption, smoking, and calcium intake.
Female gender: Because women have lighter, thinner bones than men, osteoporosis is much more frequent in women. At age 35, men have 30% more bone mass than women. Bone loss also occurs much more slowly in men than women.
Advancing age, especially the onset of menopause: Before a woman reaches her mid-30s, her body gains more bone than it loses. Around age 35, this process balances out. When a woman reaches menopause (typically around age 50), her body produces less of the female hormone estrogen. Since estrogen helps maintain body density, a decrease in the hormone will result in some bone loss. If bone loss is severe, a woman may experience an increase in bone fractures, loss of height, restricted mobility, or a humped back (also known as a "dowager’s hump"). Women who experience menopause at an early age (age 45 or younger) are at even higher risk because their level of estrogen will be lowered at an earlier age.
Family history: Women whose family members have had osteoporosis are at increased risk for the disease. Body type is often similar among mothers or sisters.
Race: Asian and Caucasian women are at greater risk for osteoporosis since their bone density is 5% to 10% lower than that of African-American women or women or Mediterranean or Aboriginal decent. Women with fair skin, freckles, or red or blond hair are also at higher risk.
Build: Women with thin or small frames have a higher risk for bone fractures.
Certain diseases:Women who have anorexia (an eating disorder), celiac disease (an inability to tolerate grain products), diabetes, chronic diarrhea, or kidney or liver diseases are at an increased risk for osteoporosis.
Smoking: Since smoking interferes with the body’s processing of calcium, smokers experience vertebral fractures more frequently than nonsmokers. In addition, women who smoke usually experience menopause one to one and a half years earlier than nonsmokers. Thus, their estrogen deficiency begins sooner than women who do not smoke.
Alcohol consumption: Studies show that consuming two or more alcoholic drinks daily decreases a woman’s rate of calcium absorption, which may lead to bone loss. Alcohol also interferes with vitamin D synthesis-a process that helps bones absorb calcium.