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Strong Women Unite

A clear summer morning and Kristen Rohde rumbles down a tranquil two-lane North Dakota highway on her lava-red Harley-Davidson.

“The ’04 Heritage Softail is a pretty big motorcycle. It takes some strength to ride, but I love it,” she says. And not just the 750-pound cycle. She loves the wind on her face, the beauty of the landscape and the sheer feeling of the powerful bike beneath her.

So what happens when Kristen receives a diagnosis that could short circuit her cycling passion?

Unwelcome news

“When the DEXA scan results showed I had osteopenia, I was dismayed, disheartened, not happy,” says the 51-year-old from Fargo. “Physically I felt strong as ever, but without realizing it, I’d been losing bone mass.”

Osteopenia can lead to osteoporosis -- a major cause of disability in older women.

In osteoporosis, significant bone loss has already occurred, contributing to loss of height, posture change and fragile bones. A DEXA scan is the most accurate test for assessing bone density.

“It’s painless, requires no preparation and takes about two minutes,” says Kristen. Typically a DEXA scan enters the health regimen at age 65 for osteoporosis screening, but Kristen needed it earlier due to risk factors including:

  • Decades of lactose intolerance resulting in low calcium intake
  • A history of fractures

Kristen’s DEXA scan in 2006 showed bone mass at the low end of normal. In 2010, Tosha Ulmer, Nurse Practitioner at Sanford Women’s OB/GYN, recommended she have another. The result? An 8 percent reduction in bone mass.

The need for action

Kristen knew that unless she took action, she’d continue to lose bone mass -- and put a roadblock in her active life.

“Nobody was going to do this for me,” says Kristen. “If it was going to change, it was up to me.”

With Tosha’s recommendations and encouragement, Kristen took important steps:

  • Increased her daily calcium and vitamin D intake with supplements, calcium-enriched orange juice and yogurt -- the one dairy product that agrees with her digestive system.
  • Worked with a trainer to build specific strength training into her three-time-a-week exercise routine.
  • Added once-a-month prescription medication to help reverse bone loss.

Put to the test

Kristen won’t know the true measure of her efforts until her next DEXA scan, but she may have gotten a clue last March on a family scuba diving trip to Belize.

“The water was rough,” recalls Kristen. “I was trying to get my fins off when a 10-foot wave smashed me into the ladder. I had black and blue marks all the way up and down my legs and was sure I broke a bone -- but I didn’t. I think my bones have gotten stronger.”

How’s your bone health?

Women reach their peak bone mass at about age 30, then it levels off. By post-menopause, a certain amount of bone density loss is expected.

“We know it’s not just 65-year-old women who need DEXA scans,” says Tosha. “That’s why we’re proactive in assessing risk factors for women in their 40s and 50s. If risk factors indicate an earlier DEXA scan, that’s the first step in putting women on a path to improved bone health.”

Risk factors include:

  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Early menopause
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Fractures possibly caused by low bone density

Talk to your doctor! Learn more about steps you can take to improve bone health. “We want women to enjoy vibrant, healthy years well past menopause,” says Tosha.

And Kristen? She has no plans to sit back and let time takes its toll. “I want to stay as strong as I possibly can,” she says. “Strength is good!”

Posted Date: August 2011