Bone Up!

Why it's never too early to prevent osteoporosis

Lights twinkled overhead and the smell of popcorn filled the air as Gail, 42, laced her skates and glided onto the ice. Today she'd put away her "to do" list of post-Christmas activities in order to savor some ice skating with her kids at the local rink. A good skater and athlete, Gail twirled on the ice, relishing their time together. Then, as she stood resting, inexplicably, Gail fell. She hadn't slipped, and no one had tripped her. Worse, she couldn't get up. As pain coursed through her body, Gail, a former nurse, knew there was only one explanation. A short time later, an emergency room x-ray confirmed Gail's suspicion: She'd spontaneously suffered a broken hip.

After surgery, Gail couldn't walk for 10 weeks and her hip was pinned for 10 months. She missed work, couldn't attend church, and had to drop out of her involvement with a women's Bible study as she slowly healed. How could this have happened? Gail seemed too young for this kind of thing. But at Gail's annual mammogram and check-up a few months later, the mystery was solved: A bone density scan revealed Gail already had experienced profound bone loss—30 percent in her hips, 25 percent in her spine.

Osteoporosis, the disease that thins bones, had caused Gail's hip to fracture.

Like Gail, thousands of women lose bone mass and don't even know it until they break a bone. That's why osteoporosis is called a "silent" disease; it progresses without pain or symptoms until a break occurs.

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