May Is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become weak and fragile, and is a leading cause of disability in older adults. Data from Medicare shows that 50% of older women will develop osteoporosis, and 25% of men. Today 10 million people are living with the disease, and with our increasing population of older adults, the number of cases is expected to rise.
Bone health should be a lifelong focus. Here are some things to know:
Q: What causes bone loss? Throughout life, new bone forms in our body and old bone is removed. Up to the age of 30 or so, new bone forms faster than old bone is removed. But after that, the process reverses. We might be diagnosed with low bone mass (osteopenia), which can progress to osteoporosis—a medical condition that causes thin, weak bones that break more easily.
Q: Why is osteoporosis so serious? Osteoporosis can be very painful. People with osteoporosis are more likely to break bones. If the bones of the spine collapse, a person may no longer be able to stand up straight. Hip and spinal fractures may lead to disability and loss of independence, and statistics show that 25% of people who suffer a hip fracture die within the next year.
Q. Does everyone get osteoporosis as they age? Not everyone, but age is a top risk factor. Other risk factors include being female, small-framed, of white or Asian descent, and a family history of osteoporosis or broken bones. Women who had early menopause or surgery to remove their ovaries at an early age also may be at higher risk.
Q: How can I keep my bones strong? We can’t control the risk factors above, but others we can. Bone health is a lifelong pursuit—in fact, this is a good topic to discuss with younger family members who are at the age where bone strength is being built! At every age, we can improve bone health with:
- A healthy diet. Eat lots of calcium-rich foods, such as milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products; dark green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach; canned sardines and salmon with bones; and soy products, such as tofu. Your doctor may recommend a calcium supplement with vitamin D.
- Exercise regularly. Putting force on our bones keeps them strong. Weight-bearing activities (such as walking, climbing stairs or dancing) and muscle-strengthening exercises (such as using weights or exercise bands) can maintain and perhaps increase bone density. Balance activities, such as tai chi, can lower the risk of suffering a fall injury.
- Quit smoking, and limit alcohol consumption. Talk to your doctor if you’re having trouble controlling these habits.
Q: How do I know if I have osteoporosis? Osteoporosis is called a “silent disease,” because most people who have it don’t realize it until they have broken a bone. Early-stage bone loss has no symptoms, so follow your doctor’s recommendation for screening. A bone mineral density scan (most often the type called a DXA) is a painless test like an x-ray that shows how strong your bones are.
Q: My doctor says I already have weakened bones … what’s next? Your doctor will recommend repeat tests over time, and will likely recommend lifestyle choices such as those listed above. Ask about a diet that’s right for you, and an exercise program that’s effective and safe (certain activities might not be). Fall prevention becomes all the more important, so remove fall hazards from your home, get an eye exam, and have your medications reviewed.
Q: Can medicines prevent or treat osteoporosis? After evaluating your bone density test results and other factors, your doctor may recommend certain drugs that can slow bone loss or build new bone mass.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. Discuss bone health with your doctor.