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Postmenopausal Osteoporosis - A Review of New Statistics


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What is osteoporosis? Osteoporosis is a condition in which a progressive loss of bone density causes bones to be weak and fragile and increases the risk of fracture. Postmenopausal osteoporosis typically occurs after menopause in women between the ages 51 and 75, but it can also occur earlier or later. The main cause of the disease is lack of estrogen, the primary hormone that promotes bone formation in women.

In adults, bones are continuously broken down and rebuilt in a process called remodeling. Before age 30, the body builds more bones than are broken down and as a result, bone mass progressively increases during this period. In women, estrogen regulates this bone building process. Women achieve peak bone mass in their 20s and gradual bone loss begins in their 30s. After menopause, estrogen production declines drastically, and this reduces a woman's ability to form new bones. As a result, bone loss accelerates. It is estimated that women lose up to 2% of their bone mass each year after menopause, especially in the first 3 - 6 years after menopause.

We have known for decades that the risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis for every woman is not the same. White and Asian women are at greater risk of osteoporosis that Black and Hispanic women. Thin women are particularly susceptible to the disease because they have smaller bones than heavier women, even in their 20s when their bones are at their strongest. Secondly, they have less fat than heavier women. It is believed that fat tissue activates certain parts of estrogen. So, women with less fat have reduced ability to activate estrogen. The combined effects of these two features increase bone turnover in thin women later in life.

What the new statistics reveal is that the incidence of osteoporosis among postmenopausal women is on the rise. For example, it is estimated that the disease affects 75 million older women in U. S, Europe, and Japan. In the United States, an estimated 30 million older women have osteoporosis or low bone density. Each year, 1.5 million osteoporosis-related fractures occur in U. S, and the direct health care costs associated with these fractures are estimated at $18 billion per year. Nearly half of all women and a quarter of men age 50 and older will suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture in their remaining lifetime. Furthermore, osteoporosis and low bone mass are now believed to be a major public health threat for 44 million Americans aged 50 and older. By 2010, that number is expected to increase to over 52 million.

Although postmenopausal osteoporosis is a silent disease, it exhibits classic symptoms namely fractures of the arm, vertebrate, and the hip. In U. S, osteoporosis-related hip fractures account for 300, 000 hospitalizations each year. About 20% of postmenopausal women who suffer a hip fracture die within a year, and another 20% of these patients will be in a nursing home within one year.

Without a doubt, the new statistics reveal an epidemic of osteoporosis among postmenopausal women. In the United States, 30 million women have osteoporosis or low bone mass. By 2010, the disease will become a major public health threat for 52 million Americans, most of whom are women. What worries experts is the ability of the disease to “sneak up" on its victims. This explains why millions of women with the disease are unaware that they have it and as a result, they remain untreated. This is a wake up call and women should take steps to protect themselves from this debilitating disease.

Chima Njoku is a biochemist, freelance medical writer, and publisher of free consumer friendly information on vitamins and minerals. Learn how you can reduce bone loss at


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