Did you know you could have osteoporosis and not even realize it until you break a bone? Osteoporosis affects almost 20 percent of women aged 50 and over and nearly 5 percent of men.
May is Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month. Osteoporosis is a disease that thins and weakens the bones. Your bones become fragile and fracture (break) easily, especially the bones in the hip, spine, and wrist, reported Dr. Lauren Rose, Family Medicine provider at RiverView Health.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis affects 54 million Americans, primarily women. Millions more Americans have osteopenia (low bone mass), putting them at risk for osteoporosis.
While most broken bones are caused by falls, osteoporosis can weaken bones to the point that a break can occur more easily, for example, by coughing or bumping into something. You are more likely to have osteoporosis as you get older, and recovering from a broken bone becomes harder. Broken bones can have lasting effects, including pain that does not go away. Osteoporosis can cause the bones in the spine to break and begin to collapse so that some people with it get shorter and cannot stand up straight.
Hospitalizations for broken bones due to osteoporosis are more common than hospitalizations for heart attacks, strokes, and breast cancer combined.
"The best way to help prevent osteoporosis is to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle," Dr. Rose stated. "Ways to lead a healthy lifestyle include eating good nutritious foods, ample calcium and vitamin D intake, participating in regular physical activity, limiting alcohol, and not smoking."
Calcium and vitamin D are found in natural food sources, including milk, beans, and dark leafy vegetables.
Exercise helps stimulate the cells responsible for building bones. Weight-bearing and resistance exercises three to four times a week promote bone health. Weight-bearing exercises focus on carrying the weight of your body against gravity. Walking is an excellent weight-bearing activity, as are running, dancing, aerobics, hiking, and tennis.
Resistance exercises use an opposing force, such as weights, an elastic band, or water to strengthen muscles and build bone. Having strong muscles and good balance may also help you avoid falls or minimize injury.
"Preventing falls is another way to help prevent fractures, both for people with and without osteoporosis. Trying to make the home as safe as possible - no loose cords or shaggy rugs - will make this less likely."
Screening for Osteoporosis
At RiverView, Dr. Rose and the other primary care providers do bone density scans, also known as DEXA scans, to determine the strength of your bones and predict your risk of having low bone density or breaking a bone.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends the following guidelines for screening:
- Women age 65 and older and men age 70 and older, regardless of clinical risk factors.
- Younger postmenopausal women, women in the menopausal transition, and men age 50 to 69 years with clinical risk factors for fracture.
- Adults who have a fracture after age 50,
- Adults with a condition (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis) or taking medication (e.g., glucocorticoids, prednisone) associated with low bone mass or bone loss
The majority of patients Dr. Rose sees regarding osteoporosis are older women. Most often, the reason for bone loss is very low levels of the hormone estrogen, which plays an important role in building and maintaining your bones. The most common cause of low estrogen levels is menopause. After menopause, your ovaries make very little estrogen. Some women lose up to 25% of bone mass in the first 10 years after menopause.
If screening indicates a patient has osteoporosis, Dr. Rose will create an individualized treatment plan that may include medication to prevent more bone loss or build new bone mass. She may also suggest getting more calcium, vitamin D, and physical activity. All recommendations are made to help prevent fractures that can cause severe pain and disability.
"There are a lot of good medications out there to treat both osteoporosis and osteopenia," she shared. "Treatments include oral medications and injectable options as well. The risks, benefits, and insurance coverage are all important topics to discuss, as well."
Don't wait until you have a broken bone to take steps to improve your bone health—you can start at any age. If you are concerned about your bone health, talk to your primary care provider about screening or make an appointment with Dr. Rose at 281.9595.