Osteoporosis is perhaps the most serious symptom of menopause because it can lead to severe health problems such as chronic back pain and broken bones. Not only does osteoporosis threaten a woman's physical health, but the disease can come on slowly and go unrecognized until a bone is fractured.
About 33% of women over 50 will experience bone fractures as a result of osteoporosis. The hormonal fluctuations that precede menopause and the permanently low hormonal levels of postmenopause play a major role in the onset of osteoporosis.
There are treatment options available, but first it's important to be educated about osteoporosis in order to know how to prevent and treat it.
Osteoporosis during menopause?
Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones and increases the risk of sudden and unexpected fractures. Osteoporosis literally means "porous bone". A hallmark of the disease is an increased loss of bone mass and strength. It often progresses without any symptoms or pain. Generally, osteoporosis is not discovered until weakened bones cause painful fractures usually in the back or hips.
An unfortunate aspect of the disease is that once an osteoporotic fracture occurs, there is a much higher risk of additional bone fractures. More unfortunate news: women make up 80% of osteoporosis sufferers. The disease does affect men but at a drastically lower rate than women. This is because men generally have stronger, bulkier bones that don't lose their mass as easily.
Men who do suffer from osteoporosis generally get it later in life than women.
Because women are more susceptible to contracting osteoporosis, they have to take greater care to prevent or treat the diseases in their later years or before. Continue reading below to learn what comprises healthy bones, which will help on the road to treatment.
Calcium and healthy bones
The human body stores 99% of its calcium in bones and teeth. Like every part of the body, the bones are continuously regenerating themselves, losing cells and incorporating new ones. As bones grow, they rely on calcium as structural material to build the proper bone density. Later in life, bones experience cell loss, where the amount of cells lost outnumbers the amount of new cells becoming part of the bones. Calcium is necessary not only during the teenage years and young adulthood when bones grow the most, but also later in life to retain as much bone mass as possible.
Symptoms of osteoporosis
One of the main issues with the onset of osteoporosis is that many people who begin developing it don't realize they are afflicted until they experience a bone fracture as a result. That is one reason it's important to take a proactive approach against osteoporosis. Symptoms generally begin to occur late in the disease when there are not many options to regain the necessary bone density. Below are the common symptoms that can indicate osteoporosis:
Common symptoms of osteoporosis
- Loss of height as a result of weakened spine
- Fractured bones, especially hip bones
- Bone pain and tenderness
- Neck, spine, and lower back pain
- Broken bones, brittle fingernails
- Periodontal disease, tooth loss
- Spinal deformities become evident like stooped posture, an outward curve at the top of the spine as a result of developing a vertebral collapse on the back.
What causes osteoporosis during menopause?
Osteoporosis is inextricably linked to hormones. For this reason, women make up about 80% of osteoporosis sufferers, and a large percentage of those women have undergone menopause and the hormonal fluctuations associated with it. Estrogen is the predominant hormone that fades with the onset of menopause and puts women at a much higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
Estrogen and osteoporosis
The graph to the right shows how drastically levels of estrogen drop off during menopause and postmenopause, beginning at about age 45. Estrogen levels in postmenopausal women are about one-tenth the amount present in premenopausal women. For this precise reason, women approaching menopause and those who have already gone through it are at a much higher risk of developing osteoporosis and suffering from bone fractures as a result.
Without adequate levels of estrogen, bones aren't able to absorb the proper amounts of calcium to replenish bone mass as cells slough off and die. The body also has trouble controlling the amount of bone cells that are destroyed without estrogen to regulate the function. Oestrogen's most important effect on osteoporosis appears to be prevention of bone breakdown, known as resorption.
Healthy bones require a balance of osteoclasts (cells that breakdown bones) and osteoblasts (cells that make new bone). As estrogen levels diminish, osteoclasts live longer than their counterparts, osteoblasts. This leads to bones being broken down at a rate much greater than they can be rebuilt, thus they grow weak and brittle.
Researchers agree that the primary cause of osteoporosis in women as they surpass age 50 is diminished hormonal levels, particularly estrogen levels; however, there are other causes that need to be explored in order to have a comprehensive understanding of this serious bone disease. Other causes of osteoporosis include the following:
- Medications - Some medications can reduce bones' ability to rebuild themselves. Some of the medications that can cause osteoporosis are glucocorticoid medications, prednisolone, excess thyroid hormone replacement, the blood thinner heparin, and certain anti-convulsant medications.
- Insufficient bone growth as a youth - Bones that didn't get enough calcium early in life have a higher likelihood of becoming osteoporotic and fracturing as estrogen levels begin to decrease.
- enetic factors - If a woman's family members, especially her mother, have suffered from osteoporosis, the likelihood that she will develop the disease jumps dramatically. Genetics also helps determine the body type of a woman. If she inherited a small, thin body type, she is predisposed to osteoporosis.
Source: 34 Menopause Symptoms. 2017. 34 Menopause Symptoms. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.34-menopause-symptoms.com/osteoporosis.htm. [Accessed 10 October 2017].