For some women, menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings are more of an annoyance and discomfort while for others they can significantly interfere with daily life. Regardless of their severity, the silver lining is that these symptoms are typically temporary and can be relieved through treatment options such as hormone replacement therapy. Other symptoms, however, can have long-lasting adverse effects on your health. Research indicates a direct link between menopause and osteoporosis. Here’s what you need to know:

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones that causes bones to become weak and break easily. Although you can develop osteoporosis at any age, it more commonly affects older adults because bone loss happens naturally as we age. The disease affects an estimated 10 million Americans. Due to a variety of factors, including menopause, osteoporosis is much more prevalent among women. Of those diagnosed with the disease, an estimated 80% are women. In the United States, it affects one in four women age 65 or older.

How are Menopause and Osteoporosis Connected?

A leading contributor to bone loss is very low levels of estrogen, a hormone that plays an important role in building and maintaining your bones. As women go through menopause, reproductive hormones including estrogen drastically decline. In fact, research indicates that some women lose up to 25% of bone mass in the first 10 years after menopause. The longer a woman experiences low levels of estrogen, the lower her bone density is likely to be. Other factors relating to ovulation that increase a woman’s risk of osteoporosis include premature menopause (before age 45), irregular periods and extended time periods without a menstrual period.

Symptoms of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is considered a “silent disease” because you can be asymptomatic for years while the disease progresses.

Early warning signs of osteoporosis include:

  • Brittle fingernails
  • Receding gums
  • Weak grip strength
  • A decrease in overall fitness

Once your bones have begun to weaken by osteoporosis, symptoms may include:

  • Loss of height
  • Stooped posture
  • Back pain caused by a fracture or collapsed vertebra
  • A bone fracture that occurs more easily than expected

What You Can Do

There are many uncontrollable risk factors associated with osteoporosis such as gender, age and family history. Additionally, you cannot prevent menopause. But, what you can do is take preventative measures to help slow the natural bone loss that occurs with aging. This includes getting enough calcium and vitamin D, staying active, not smoking and limiting alcohol consumption.

For women going through menopause, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a common treatment method to help manage your symptoms. HRT can also help prevent osteoporosis.

Continued HRT post-menopause can be beneficial to replace the estrogen that was lost during menopause and preserve bone health.

When to Seek Help

Hormone replacement therapy is often recommended for women who have multiple risk factors for osteoporosis, experienced early menopause or are determined to have low bone density based on testing.

Having completed additional training beyond board certification, Dr. Karen Clark is a certified menopause practitioner. She is able to deliver expert care to women experiencing perimenopause and menopause, primarily through the management of hormone therapy. To schedule an appointment at Chapel Hill Gynecology, call (919) 960-2720.