Osteoporosis (OSS-tee-o-pore-OH-sis) is a disease in which the bones become soft and weak. According to the American Medical Association, post-menopausal women are most often affected, although the disease also strikes men. In women, this disease is associated with decreased production of estrogen, the female hormone that helps keep calcium in the bones. Estrogen levels are drastically reduced when a woman goes through menopause or has her ovaries surgically removed. Osteoporosis may have no symptoms, but when bone loss reaches 50 percent, it may cause pain, usually located in the back, ribs, or limbs. As the disease progresses, there's a loss of height due to compression of the vertebrae, and an increased curvature of the spine, often called a 'widow's hump.' There's also a serious risk of fractures. Fortunately, many of the treatment measures for osteoporosis can be taken throughout life to help build strong, healthy bones. For example, a balanced diet rich in vitamin D and calcium, and regular, weight-bearing exercise can help prevent bone loss. It also helps to avoid smoking, and to limit caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated beverages. Once you have osteoporosis, it's difficult to reverse the damage. However, your doctor may recommend estrogen replacement therapy or calcium supplements or other medications to prevent bone loss. Estrogen replacement is most crucial in the first three years after menopause, when bone is lost at a more rapid rate. Your doctor may also recommend a bone scan to measure whether there has been significant bone loss. If your bones are already fragile, it's especially important to minimize the risk of fall. Make sure the stairways in your home have railings and that your home is adequately lighted. You should also avoid lifting heavy objects. For more information on osteoporosis, consult a health care professional.
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