Osteoporosis is characterised by a reduction in the amount of dense bone present in the skeleton. This means that the bones gradually become more porous and lose their solidness.

There is an increased risk of fractures particularly of the hip and wrist and also there is a risk of collapse fractures of the spine.

Osteoporosis occurs naturally with age in both men and women. However, in some post-menopausal women osteoporosis can appear as a disease with signs and symptoms well ahead of the normal process of aging. In these cases, osteoporosis is linked with a lack of female hormones. This can also occur if the source of the hormones has been removed or damaged - for example hysterectomy with the removal of ovaries as well as the womb.

Lack of weight-bearing exercise can cause osteoporosis, particularly if there is prolonged hospitalisation or bed rest.

Young women who really over-exercise, can lower their levels of female hormones, resulting in flat breasts and the loss of periods, also run the risk of developing osteoporosis much earlier in life.

In contrast, short thin women who smoke and drink and donít exercise are also at risk.

Diet is an important factor. Lack of calcium in the diet or the inability to absorb calcium from the food you eat and drink can lead to osteoporosis. A diet which is not balanced, can effect the absorption of calcium.

Certain medication such as some fluid tablets, epilepsy medications, cortisone preparations, thyroid hormones and long term antibiotic medication can effect the absorption of calcium or the rate of excretion from the body. If you fall into any of these categories, you should discuss the whole subject with your doctor.

CT scanning and x-ray densitometry is now available to diagnose osteoporosis in women suspected of suffering from the disease.

Once diagnosed, treatment should include regular, sensible exercise in keeping with your age and physical ability.

It should include a satisfactory intake of dietary calcium , including at least three serves of dairy products (soy milk is an excellent source of calcium for those with a milk intolerance) Low fat products such as fortified milk and cottage cheese are a good source of calcium.

The need for calcium medication is at present controversial. For the best effect calcium tablets or preparations should be taken in the evening. This will help absorption of calcium.

Increased calcium intake in the form of medication or diet can cause constipation in the elderly and can be dangerous in certain circumstances. Hormonal Replacement Therapy, plays a part in preventing the loss of density of the bone in women who are at risk.

The prevention of osteoporosis requires an adequate intake of calcium during teenage years and early twenties together with regular exercise to reduce your risk of osteoporosis. If you suspect that you are at risk or suffering from osteoporosis, discuss your case with your local doctor who can advise you.

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