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What it is

Ten million Americans—80 percent of them women —currently have osteoporosis, or "porous bones." Another 18 million have low bone mass, or osteopenia, a precondition to osteoporosis which puts them at increased risk. With the first of the baby boomers now heading into their golden years, the National Osteoporosis Foundation expects the number to soar to 41 million in the next 15 years. In fact, your risk of suffering an osteoporotic hip fracture alone is equal to your combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.

Bone is a living tissue. Your body constantly breaks down and removes old bone while simultaneously forming new bone. Even well after puberty, your body adds more bone than it removes. Both men and women reach their peak bone mass sometime between the age of 20 and 30, when the balance starts to tip the other way and your body begins to lose bone mass at a faster rate than you can rebuild it. At menopause, consult with your physician to discuss risk factors and to explore what option is best for you. The drop in estrogen, which has a protective effect on bone, can make you lose as much as 20 percent of your bone mass in the first five to seven years of menopause.

Although osteoporosis can happen to any of your bones, it is most common in the hip, wrist, and in your spine, also called the vertebrae. Vertebrae are important because these bones support your body to stand and sit upright.

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