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Getting Tough On Osteoporosis

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As most people age, their bodies weaken. However, women over 60 may suffer from a specific disease that forces them to be careful of their every movement, because one false move can break their bones.

Over 30 million elderly women suffer from this bone-weakening condition, called osteoporosis. Early Show Medical Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay provided details on new government screening guidelines.

The government recommends, for the first time, that women 65 and older be routinely screened for osteoporosis to reduce the risk of fractures and spinal abnormalities associated with the disease. The government also recommends routine screenings for any high-risk woman from the age of 60, those who weigh less than 154 lbs. or don't use estrogen therapy.

"Osteoporosis is partly caused by declining levels of estrogen after menopause," said Senay. "Which leads to loss of bone tissue. Hormone replacement therapy is effective in reducing the risk of osteoporosis and many take it for that reason. Those who don't, should be screened at age 60."

A bone density test is the most common way to diagnose osteoporosis and monitor it. It's a widely available, accurate and non-invasive test using x-ray that measures hip-bone density. Bone density of the hand, wrist, forearm and heel can also be measured to detect risk.

There are various medications for the treatment of osteoporosis including calcitonin, bisphosphonates such as alendronate and risendronate and selective estrogen-receptor modulators such as raloxifene.

Senay recommends women to discuss the potential benefits and risks of each treatment with their doctors.

There are a few ways to try to prevent the disease. Hormone replacement therapy works for many women to prevent osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercises is a good way to strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis. And, of course, we have know for a long time that calcium is important to maintain bone strength.

"Women can do a lot to prevent the disease by getting the right amount of calcium early in life," said Senay. "It should be taken with Vitamin D, which helps the body absorb it."