There are a lot of things women need to know about their health as they age, but there is one disease that is often overlooked. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 24.5% (nearly one fourth) of women over 65 are diagnosed with osteoporosis, many women aren’t aware of that fact or the steps they should take to reduce their risk.
Osteoporosis is a bone disease affecting nearly 8 million women in the U.S. It makes bones weaker and therefore more prone to fractures — some of which can be serious or fatal. A hip fracture, for instance, could put a person in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. A rib fracture could puncture an organ and cause serious complications. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), the risk of a fracture from osteoporosis is greater for women than the risk of a heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined.
Men can have osteoporosis, as well, though it is much less common. According to the NOF, approximately 80% of all diagnoses for osteoporosis affect women. There are a few potential reasons the disease is so common for women. The NOF attributes it to the fact that women have naturally smaller and thinner bones and that a dip in estrogen levels after menopause can cause bone loss. This is also part of the reason that your risk increases with age.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to prevent the disease. People who support their bones with proper nutrition and care beginning in their teenage years are the most likely to stay healthy — but it’s never too late to start building healthier habits. Strengthening your bones can be done by eating a diet rich with calcium and vitamin D and getting regular exercise. Certain types of activity may not be best for exercisers over 50, but working out with these tips in mind can help keep your workouts both safe and effective. The NOF also recommends limiting alcohol consumption and quitting smoking to reduce your risk.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to talk to your doctor about getting a screening in the form of a bone density scan and X-ray. Even if you haven’t had a fracture or any pain, it doesn’t hurt to get checked. Symptoms of osteoporosis are often difficult or impossible to detect on your own, but if you do notice aches and pain, those are some of the things you should never keep from your doctor.