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Health care providers categorize a person’s bone density as “normal,” “osteopenia,” or “osteoporosis” when compared to other individuals of the same age and gender. Osteopenia refers to low bone mass or density. Osteoporosis is a more serious loss of bone density, which weakens the bones. Loss of estrogen through natural or surgical menopause can lead to increased weakening of the bones. Some degree of bone thinning occurs as a natural part of the aging process. Significant weakening of the bones, however, increases risk for fractures (broken bones).
A bone density test can determine whether a person’s bones are weakened or are of normal density. Health care providers often recommend a baseline bone density test before prophylactic oophorectomy or soon after, and then on an annual or semi-annual basis after menopause.
Hormonal and nonhormonal medications can lower the risk for fractures due to loss of bone density. These medications may have side effects. Some, like hormones, may raise the risk for other cancers. Women with osteopenia or osteoporosis associated with menopause should be followed by health care professionals who are trained in evaluating and managing osteoporosis. It is important for each woman to weigh the potential benefits and relief from hormone replacement vs. their individual risk for cancer or other risks associated with hormone replacement.
Weightbearing or resistance exercise may lower the risk for fractures in postmenopausal women. However, it is important to discuss exercise with your physician before starting any physical regimen or routine. Consulting with a licensed physical therapist to assure that your exercise routine is safe and appropriate is also worthwhile. Experts also recommend postmenopausal women receive 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day (getting adequate calcium through diet is preferable to supplementation).