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Breaking the Silence

Why Women Need to be Aware of Osteoporosis Now

When you hear the term "osteoporosis" what you think of? An inevitable part of the aging process? Something to deal with later in life? If so, you should think again. Osteoporosis is every woman's concern because, whatever your age, what you do now will affect to what extent you deal with this disease later. Although there are improving treatments for osteoporosis, early prevention is by far the best medicine.

Osteoporosis, a disease characterized by the weakening of the bones, is called the "silent disease" because it happens slowly over time. Most women - the primary victims of the disease - don't even learn they have osteoporosis until it is in advanced stages and they experience a bone break, typically at the hip, spine, wrist or ankle. In fact, the National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that as many as eight million American women have osteoporosis - with many more at high risk for developing the disease.

Dr. Carlton Pearse, M.D. and chief of Obstetrics/Gynecology at St. Luke's Hospital, explains. "Far too often, osteoporosis is seen as a disease that women just naturally experience when they get older, something to be treated but not prevented," he says. "Neither assumption is correct." While some bone loss occurs when we grow older, osteoporosis is not the norm. The key is to act early to maintain healthy bones.

Bones are a living function within the body, constantly reforming and remodeling. During the bone remodeling process the body continuously removes old bone and replaces it with new bone. Bone remodeling is impacted by a number of factors including hormones, exercise, and the amount of calcium in the body - the mineral deposit that makes bones hard. When too much bone is removed and/or not enough bone is formed to take its place, bone loss and weakening occurs.

Dr. Pearse encourages women of all ages to take immediate action to prevent osteoporosis and also urges them to teach their children and grandchildren the importance of maintaining healthy bones. Building healthy bones through exercise, diet and avoiding preventable risks such as smoking can have positive long-term affects later in life. The time to start is before you have signs of a problem.

Today, make a commitment to your body. Ask your doctor about risks and warning signs of osteoporosis and take the necessary steps to prevent this disease. Dr. Pearse, along with the National Osteoporosis Foundation, recommend the following prevention measures:
  • Raise Your Calcium I.Q.
    Getting the adequate amount of daily calcium is an essential step to maintaining strong bones. The amount of calcium you need changes throughout your life because your balance of "bone remodeling" is always changing. Use the following guidelines as a general rule:

    • Infants (birth to 6 months/6 to 12 months): 210 mg/d / 270 mg/d
    • Young Children (1 to 3 years): 500 mg/d
    • Older Children (4 to 8 years): 800 mg/d
    • Adolescents and Young Adults (9 to 18 years): 1300 mg/d
    • Men and Women (19 to 50 years): 1000 mg/d
    • Men and Women (51 and older): 1200 mg/d

  • Keep Moving!
    Weight-bearing exercise - any exercise in which your legs and feet bear your weight while performing it, like walking, jogging or dancing - helps keep bones strong. Make it part of your regular weekly routine.

  • Plan to Quit
    Smoking hastens bone loss as well as increases your chances for many other health problems. Make a plan to quit smoking successfully. For assistance, call 314-542-4848 to register for St. Luke's smoking cessation group, "Breaking Free from Smoking."

  • Talk to Your Doctor Now - Regardless of Your Age or Condition
    Your physician will be able to fully explain your risk factors, conduct bone density screenings if necessary, and answer any questions regarding the prevention and treatment of the disease. Women should be aware of high risk factors such as age, heredity, lifestyle habits, body size, ethnicity, hormone levels, diet and exercise. Some risk factors cannot be changed, but many can be modified if you know the facts.

    "We know so much more now than we did 10 years about how to prevent and treat osteoporosis," says Dr. Pearse. "It is important to know that you can take more control over this disease-regardless of your age, condition, or other risk factor. You just need to take the initiative to learn about it and understand the importance of prevention."
To schedule an appointment for bone density testing or other women's health services, call St. Luke's Women's Health Source Line at 314-205-6654.

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