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The #1 Signal Your Bone Density is "Dangerously Low"

Get proactive about bone health.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Is osteoporosis an inevitable part of aging, especially once you're over 50? Not necessarily, doctors say. "Adults should not break bones when they fall from a standing position," says Holly L. Thacker, MD, FACP. "That is not a standard part of aging." Here are five signs your bone density is dangerously low, according to experts. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss Already Had COVID? These Symptoms May "Never Go Away".

1

Back Pain

tired young woman with back pain sitting on the bed at home
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Back pain is a common sign of low bone density, doctors say. "Osteoporosis is a condition where bones become less dense and strong, increasing risk of fractures," says Paul Harries, MD. "Osteoporosis can lead to back pain due to bones in the vertebra weakening and compressing, leading to a variety of possible symptoms and pain. Osteoporosis is more common as we age; it is closely linked to changes in hormone levels, which can be after menopause in women, or caused by low testosterone in men. Other hormone problems may include abnormal thyroid function or taking steroids repeatedly."

2

Changes In Height

Measuring Height, Elderly Person
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Changes in height could be a sign of osteoporosis. "A lot of people are under the misconception that losing height is normal," says rheumatologist Abby G. Abelson, MD, FACR. "Certainly losing a half-inch or three quarters of an inch may be normal, but I've seen patients who say they've lost two, three, or four inches in height, and they thought that was a natural consequence of aging. But it's not."

3

Change In Posture

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Having a hunched-over posture is another commons ign of low bone density. "There are two visible clues of osteoporosis: changes in your posture (such as a hunched-over appearance) and loss of height," say Hope Ricciotti, M.D., and Hye-Chun Hur, M.D., M.P.H. "Both of these changes may be caused when your spine becomes curved or compressed from weakness or tiny fractures (called compression fractures) in your vertebrae, the small bones that make up your spine."

4

Early Menopause

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Women are at greater risk of low bone density after menopause, doctors warn. "When you don't have enough estrogen, the bones break down much faster than they build up, and consequently, there's a net loss," says Dr. Thacker. "It's imperative to discuss and institute a bone loss prevention plan with your doctor when the first signs of menopause appear," Dr. Thacker says. "It's a great time to get a baseline bone density test and to go over your family history, lifestyle and medications, and what you can do to be strong and healthy."

5

Fracture

Holding on to ankle, bone fracture
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Bone fracture (typically of the hip, wrist, or spine) is the number one signal your bone density is too low. "We now have many safe and effective medications to prevent the fractures that are caused by osteoporosis, but it is also critical to prevent bone loss and fractures by addressing risk factors that you can control," says Dr. Abelson. "People are more likely to die in the year after a hip fracture. People are more likely to die after a spine fracture as well. That's why we want to be really proactive about diagnosing this early."

6

How Can I Protect My Bone Density?

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Aside from lifestyle factors such as exercise, not smoking, and not drinking too much alcohol, nutrition is important in protecting and supporting bone health. "It is clear that adequate calcium in the diet and sufficient vitamin D are important in maintaining bone health," says Deborah Kado, MD, head of the osteoporosis clinic at UC San Diego Health. "My recommendation (in line with current FDA recommendations) is that older women and men should ingest about 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily, ideally through dietary sources. The average American consumes about 500 to 700 mg through diet, so in patients with low bone density or osteoporosis, I advise additional calcium supplementation of about 600mg, which is usually sufficient. Vitamin D helps ensure adequate calcium absorption from the gut and also favors keeping a good balance of calcium in the bone. For those who have low bone density or osteoporosis, I generally recommend 800 to 1,000 International Units daily of vitamin D3." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more
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