Osteoporosis Affects Both Men and Women

Osteoporosis is not a loss of bone density, but a loss of bone mass. It happens when the cells that make bone decrease and bone tissue deteriorates. About ten million people in the U.S. have the disease.

Dr. Darwin Clark, Memorial hospital staff radiologist, said, "You slip and fall or you do something trivial like making up the bed and you can fracture your spine. Those things in and of themselves or not horrible problems, but they lead to other problems - hospitalization, pneumonia and those sort of things - and the affects of it can be the beginning of a downward spiral in functioning for many women and men."

There are often no signs or symptoms of osteoporosis, so by the time most women find out they have it, they are already at a higher risk for fractures.

"You feel healthy, you look healthy," said Dr. Clark. "Over the years, you may notice an elderly person begin to have a slump or walk a little bent over and that is a late indication they may have had something go wrong in their spine - they've lost bone height and are shorter than they used to be - but other than those things, you have no real sign or symptom of it until something happens."

Osteoporosis usually affects older white women after menopause, but men can also get the disease if they are taking certain medications or have other health problems. If you are in your mid to late 50s, you should have regular bone density tests. The x-ray measures bone mass and density. It is not painful and only takes five minutes from start to finish.

Hortencia Delacruz, Memorial hospital mammographer, said, "If they're on any kind of medication for bone loss like calcium [or] Oscal [or] they're smokers, that puts them at a little bit of a higher risk. We ask them if they have a history of fracture [and] at what age they went through menopause."

The disease is beatable and treatable with injectable medicine or pills that rebuild bone mass. Over the counter medications can help prevent further bone loss but do not rebuild bone mass as well as prescribed medicines.

Women in their teens and 20s can prevent osteoporosis by getting plenty of exercise and eating foods rich in calcium to strengthen their bones.