Don't ignore osteoporosis – Physicians' Clinic of Iowa, LIVING WELL Magazine

Osteoporosis: Don’t ignore it!

By Dr. Ritu Munjal, Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa—Osteoporosis & Bone Health, Linn County LIVING WELL Magazine

It’s another new year and when you think about staying healthy, you probably think about making lifestyle changes to prevent conditions like heart disease or stroke. However, keeping your bones healthy to prevent osteoporosis should be at the top of your to-do list this year. Here’s why:

Breast cancer, heart attack and stroke are the most common threats to our health, yet fractures due to osteoporosis are more common than all three of these combined.

Osteoporosis is known as ‘porous bones’ or ‘thinned out bones.” About 10 million Americans already have the disease and estimates suggest that about half of all women older than 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis. Up to one in four men will too.

Bones that have lost density or mass can break more easily. In serious cases, something as simple as a sneeze or bumping into furniture can cause a break. Breaking a bone is serious, especially when you’re older. Broken bones due to osteoporosis are most likely to occur in the hip, spine and wrist, but other bones can break too.

Who is at risk?

Certain people are more likely to develop osteoporosis than others.

  • Age. Osteoporosis affects people of all ages, but it is more common in older individuals.
  • Sex. Women are at higher risk then men.
  • Menopause. For many women, bone loss increases after menopause when estrogen levels drop sharply. If you go through menopause early, your risk of osteoporosis increases. The same is true if you have your ovaries removed.
  • Family History. Your risk is increased if your parents had osteoporosis, a history of broken bones, or had a noticeable amount of height loss or a curved spine.
  • Low Body Weight/Being Small and Thin. Those with smaller bones are at increased risk.
  • Broken Bones or Height Loss. People who have broken one or more bones during their adult years may already have osteoporosis and not know it.
  • Not Getting Enough Calcium and Vitamin D.
  • Getting Too Much Protein, Sodium and Caffeine. Diets that are extremely high in these can put you at greater risk.
  • Inactive Lifestyle. People who are bedridden, inactive or do not exercise are at higher risk.
  • Smoking.  The chemicals in cigarettes are bad for your bone cells and make it harder to absorb calcium.
  • Drinking Too Much Alcohol. Drinking heavily can reduce bone formation.
  • Losing Weight.  You can protect your bones while losing weight by exercising and eating a healthy diet that provides enough calcium and vitamin D.
  • Medications. Some medications predispose you to bone loss. Talk to your doctor about the medications you are taking.
  • §  Health Conditions. Many health conditions can increase your chance of getting osteoporosis. You should talk with your doctor to see if your conditions put you at risk.

How do you test for osteoporosis?

You could have osteoporosis or be at risk without realizing. Often, breaking a bone is the first sign. You also might notice that you are getting shorter or your upper back is curving forward. At this point the disease may be advanced. A bone mineral density test can tell if you have osteoporosis before you have these symptoms. It’s like an x-ray, but the amount of radiation is very small. It takes only 5 – 10 minutes and is painless. This test picks up early bone thinning and allows it to be treated so broken bones can be avoided.

What are the treatment options?

Diagnosed osteoporosis can be treated. It may be as simple as correcting the low vitamin D or calcium intake. There are medications that are available too. Some of them actually make new bone, which in turn makes your bones stronger.

When should I be tested?

Get tested if you:

  • Have reached menopause or have had a hysterectomy
  • Are a woman over 65 years old or a man over 70 years old
  • Have ever taken Prednisone (cortisone) for more than three months
  • Have parents or siblings with osteoporosis, hip fracture or spinal fractures
  • Have lost two or more inches of height
  • Have broken a bone after the age of 50 years old

Osteoporosis is a silent but serious disease because you can’t feel it until you break a bone. The good news is it is easy and painless to diagnose and treatment is available to help.

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