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Osteoporosis is a thinning of the bones. Normally, the inside of a bone looks like a honeycomb. If you have osteoporosis, the spaces in the honeycomb get larger and the bone's hard outer shell gets thinner. This makes the bone weaker and it breaks more easily.
You may not know you have osteoporosis until a sudden strain, bump, or fall causes a bone to break. You may start getting shorter or develop severe back pain or a hunched back as bones in your spine get weaker and are pushed closer together.
Bone development peaks when you're in your late 20s or early 30s. After that, you start losing bone mass. Women are more likely to get osteoporosis than men because they have less bone mass to begin with and because they lose bone mass after menopause. Other risk factors include:
* having a small, slender body
* having fair skin
* being White or Asian
* having a family member with osteoporosis
* experiencing menopause or having surgery to remove ovaries before age 45
* drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day
* not getting enough exercise
* not eating enough calcium and vitamin D
* taking certain medications, such as steroids, for more than 3 months
* having certain diseases, such as hyperthyroidism
* breaking a bone as an adult
* having abnormal menstrual periods or skipped periods.
Because signs and symptoms of osteoporosis don't appear until you've lost a great deal of bone mass, all women age 65 and older should have a simple bone density test to screen for osteoporosis. Someone who's at risk for osteoporosis may need a bone density test before age 65. Similar to an X-ray, the bone density test is safe and painless. Your healthcare provider also may want you to have blood tests or other X-rays before making a diagnosis.
Osteoporosis is treated with diet, exercise, and medicine if needed. If you smoke, stop. Don't drink too much alcohol and avoid carbonated beverages, excess salt, red meat, and excess caffeine.
Make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet through low-fat or fat-free dairy products (such as yogurt and cheese); dried figs; dark green leafy vegetables; fish; almonds; and juices, breads, and cereals with added calcium. If you can't get enough calcium or vitamin D from food, your healthcare provider may suggest that you take a calcium or vitamin D supplement. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your healthcare provider about how much calcium and vitamin D you need.
The most common types of calcium supplements are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Take calcium carbonate with food because it may cause constipation or gas. Calcium citrate can be taken with or without food and doesn't cause gas. Don't take any type of calcium supplement at the same time as iron or medicines that should be taken on an empty stomach.
Exercise regularly to strengthen your bones and muscles. Ask your healthcare provider what kind of exercise is best for you. Muscle-strengthening exercises such as weight machines or weight-bearing exercises such as walking may help. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe medicine or a combination of medicines to treat your osteoporosis.
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