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Osteoporosis health centre

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Causes of osteoporosis

Weakening of the bones through osteoporosis can be a natural part of ageing as bone density decreases.

Osteoporosis affects around three million people in the UK.

Hormone changes at the menopause can influence the risk of osteoporosis, as can having a family history of the condition.

Eating a diet that's low in calcium, getting little exercise and smoking cigarettes also contribute to developing osteoporosis.

Does osteoporosis start in childhood?

In childhood and adolescence the body constantly breaks down old bone and rebuilds new bone through a process called “remodelling”. During this time the body builds more bone than it removes, and so bones grow and get stronger.

You often hear how important it is for women to get enough calcium. However it's just as important, maybe even more important, that children and teenagers get ample bone-boosting calcium. It's also important for them to exercise daily to build strong bones.

When does osteoporosis usually happen in women?

For most women the total amount of bone peaks somewhere between 25 and 30 years old. It may peak even sooner for some women, depending on what their risk factors for osteoporosis are. At some point, usually around 35 years old, women start to lose bone.

While some bone is lost each year, the rate of bone loss increases dramatically in the five to 10 years after menopause. Then, for several years, the breakdown of bone occurs at a much greater pace than the building of new bone. This is the process that eventually causes osteoporosis.

During this time, even though your bones may still be strong enough to prevent unusual fractures and you have no signs to alert you to the disease, bone loss may become detectable with a bone density test.

Does osteoporosis happen in men too?

Yes. Osteoporosis happens in men too. About one in 5 men over the age of 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis usually starts about 10 years later in men. Still, osteoporosis in men is just as disabling and just as painful.

How are the menopause and oestrogen related to osteoporosis?

Oestrogen is important for maintaining bone density in women. When oestrogen levels drop after menopause, bone loss speeds up. This can happen with a natural menopause or an early surgical menopause if you have your ovaries removed.

During the first five to 10 years after menopause, women can lose between 2% and 4% of bone density each year. That means they can lose as much as between 25% and 30% of their bone density during that time.

Accelerated bone loss after the menopause is a major cause of osteoporosis in women. For women, having the strongest bones possible before you enter menopause is the best protection against debilitating fractures.

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