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Osteoporosis is a disease that causes progressive bone loss. The actual translation means porous bone. Unfortunately, this is something that does not appear to be under control, as we see so many people in their senior years afflicted with this. It sneaks up on you, and many times the first signal of its presence is a broken bone. No symptoms or pain, one doesn't realize she has it until it is too late.

A major health problem in the US, osteoporosis causes over a million broken bones a year. Studies show 75% of women over 65 will experience at least one fracture at some time or another. These can be painful, crippling fractures of the hip, spine, and leg. Wrist fractures are common during falls, and I have seen compression fractures of the spine by simply picking up a shoe.

Hip fractures probably get the most attention, as they are so common in the elderly. These truly are life-changing events, as this can signal the end of independent living. 10 billion dollars a year are estimated to be spent from hip fractures ALONE, as the actual cost per patient reaches upwards of $40,000.

What causes it? Several factors have been implicated. Older age, ancestry from northern Europe, smoking, slender build, chronic steroid use, and a family history of fractures all have been exposed. Women who are post-menopausal will lose about 2% bone mass a year due to the estrogen hormone change. This is why estrogen supplements are often prescribed, as the earlier a women starts therapy, the less bone mass she will experience. Calcium should be taken as well, with a minimum of 1500 mg. a day. But, note, one must take Vitamin D as well, as the calcium will not be absorbed unless Vitamin D is present. A dose of 400 iu daily is enough.

Diagnosis? Many diagnostic tests are available, including X-rays, bone densiometry tests, and CT scans can be helpful. A solid medical history and exam can be enough, though. Treatment depends on the cause of the disease, and the age of the patient. Men are afflicted as well, but just not as often. We don't tend to live as long as you women do, so be the penalty of long life.

Again, you hear the common phrase: exercise regularly! Strong muscles pull against those bones, and in turn the bones get stronger in response. Three to four times a week, such as walking, weights, dancing, and swimming can be excellent. Remember, you may feel okay now, but just because a chicken has wings don't mean it can fly. If you fall into a high-risk category, go see your doctor for a checkup.

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