Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a skeletal disease that reduces bone mass, erodes bone tissue and compromises bone strength. As women age and approach menopause, estrogen production slows, putting them at increased risk of developing osteoporosis. About two million Canadian women are living with osteoporosis, and as the population ages, this number is likely to increase.

Research has shown that women can lose as much as 30 percent of their bone mass in the 10 years following menopause, posing serious health concerns. For example, about 20 percent of women with osteoporosis who fracture a hip die within one year of the injury. Osteoporosis Canada suggests that all post-menopausal women be assessed. A Bone Mineral Density test (similar to an X-ray) is a safe, painless way to determine whether you have the disease or are at risk of developing it in the future. Of note, a spontaneous fracture or a bone break from a minor fall can be warning signs of osteoporosis.

Take Osteoporosis Canada’s 60-second Osteoporosis Risk Quiz.

Risk factors

According to the Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study, a majority of fragility fractures happen to people with bone mineral density (BMD) scores that suggest they are not at high risk of developing osteoporosis.

The risk factors associated with osteoporosis are well documented. They include:

Personal

  • Older age
  • Post-menopausal
  • Experienced early menopause, natural or surgical (before age 40)
  • Family history of osteoporosis, especially osteoporotic fractures
  • Caucasian or Asian heritage
  • Thin and small boned
  • History of irregular periods, no periods or an eating disorder

Lifestyle

  • Infrequent exercise
  • Life-long low calcium intake
  • Low Vitamin D intake
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Caffeine (more than three cups of coffee a day)
  • Alcohol (consistently more than two drinks a day)

Drugs

  • Corticosteroids
  • Antiepilptic drugs
  • High dose thyroid medication

Learn more about osteoporosis and fracture prevention care.

Treatment

Though hormone therapy has proved to have a positive impact on bone health, it is not generally recommended as treatment specifically for osteoporosis because its positive effects are limited to the short or medium term, well before the disease begins to take its greatest toll.

There are things you can do to prevent osteoporosis: Vitamin D supplements and weight-bearing exercises such as walking help maintain strength, balance and flexibility, while calcium supplements help preserve bone density. Women who smoke can reduce their risk of osteoporosis significantly by quitting.

Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Osteoporosis in Canada, 2010 by Osteoporosis Canada

Learn more on osteoporosis, know your options and get tips for strong bones at On The Go Women.

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