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Osteoporisis means 'porous bones'.

Why is this important?

The importance of Oseteoporosis lies in the fact that it may cause serious problems for the women who have it. It is much more common in women, especially in menopause. About one third of women over the age of 65 will suffer a fracture of a vertebra in their old age. Another common site of fractures in elderly women in the hip bone.

How does this condition come about?

The bones in our body are not solid and unchanging. Everyday there is a process of breakdown and rebuilding going on; the bones are being constantly remoulded. Usually the two processes are in a state of balance and the bones maintain a certain thickness and strength, but as we get older an imbalance develops and there is more breakdown of bone than repair. The bones therefore become thinner.

The body needs calcium for normal function of all the cells. The bones form a sort of calcium bank for the body. If there is a shortage then calcium will be drawn out of the bones and unless the lack is corrected, the bones will remain deficient in calcium.

Risk factors

Genetic factors
A family history of osteoporosis or a fracture due to osteoporosis.

Body type
Small thin fair complexioned, white or Indian women. Age plays a role. As women get older the level of hormones, especially estrogen drops. This causes a decrease in the absorption of calcium and a tendency to osteoporosis.

Medical and surgical problems
Certain drugs cause loss of bone mineral. These include cortisone, anti-epileptic drugs and others. Hysterectomy before the menopause especially if the ovaries are also removed increases the risk of osteoporosis. Overactive thyroid or para-thyroid glands also do so.

This plays a very definite role. These all increase the likelihood or aggravates osteoporosis; smoking and alcohol intake; drinking a lot of tea or coffee; an insufficient intake of calcium and lack of weight bearing exercises.

How can osteoporosis be prevented?

Start young with maintaining bone health : If one lays down strong bones in youth, these same bones will be able to better resist osteoporosis in the middle and old age.

Exercise regularly - walk or jog for an hour three times a week. Avoid or reduce alcohol, smoking, tea and coffee intake.

Diet and supplements
Increase your calcium intake. Milk, yoghurt and cheese are good sources of calcium. Calcium can also been taken in the form of a supplement, particularly for those women who cannot tolerate dairy products.

Osteoporosis poses a real threat to the well-being and lives of millions of women. It is much easier to prevent it than to treat it. You can make the care of your bones your concern. Lifestyle changes, plays as important a role in your bone health as all the medicines that are or can be used.

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Copyright KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health, 2001

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