Estrogen plays an important part in maintaining bone strength. Starting at about age 30 through onset of menopause, women lose a small amount of bone every year as a natural part of the aging process. When women reach menopause and estrogen levels decrease, the rate of bone loss increases for approximately 8 to 10 years before returning to premenopausal rates.
Osteoporosis can go undetected for years and fracture is typically the first outward sign. Advanced osteoporosis is potentially disabling, often leading to one or more of the following:
- Fractures of the spine, wrist or hip
- Spinal deformity (e.g., lost height, hunched back)
- Chronic or severe pain
- Limited function and reduced mobility
- Loss of independence
- Decreased lung capacity
- Difficulty sleeping
Osteoporosis is the leading cause of spine fractures, especially in women over age 50, but only about one third of all spine fractures are diagnosed.
Most osteoporotic spine fractures (vertebral compression fractures) start with sudden back pain, usually after routine activity (lifting or bending) that slightly strains or jars the back. After a month or two, this acute pain is usually replaced by an achy pain (see Diagnosing Vertebral Compression Fractures).