- The Silent Thief
Osteoporosis is the most common of
the bone diseases that affect Americans. It is characterized by
low bone mass resulting in weakening of the skeleton and an increased
susceptibility to fractures. The condition is called "silent" because
you can't feel or see your bones becoming weaker. Bone loss occurs
slowly over time, and is not realized until a simple activity or
fall results in a fracture. Osteoporosis is a major health risk
for 28 million Americans. In the U.S. today, 10 million individuals
already have the disease and 18 million more have low bone mass,
placing them at increased risk for the disease.
- 80% of those affected by osteoporosis
- 8 million women and 2 million men
- Significant risk has been reported
in people of all ethnic backgrounds (but Caucasians and those
descent are at higher risk).
- Of those diagnosed with osteoporosis,
one out of every two women and one in eight men over 50 will have
an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime.
- Osteoporosis is responsible for
more than 1.5 million fractures annually.
- Stooped posture or rounded shoulders.
- Hump forming at the upper back.
- Back pain or tiredness (often caused
by an unknown vertebral fracture).
- Fracture or broken bones (typically
of the hip, wrist, ankle and spine).
Bone mineral density (BMD) predicts
hip and other types of fractures.
The diagnosis of osteoporosis begins with a thorough medical history,
an x-ray (if a fracture is suspected) and bone density testing.
Specialized tests called bone density tests can measure bone density
in various sites of the body. Your bones are scanned with either
x-rays or ultrasound waves. The amount of radiation exposure is
very low and the procedure is painless. The lower your BMD is, the
greater your risk of fracture. Additional tests (such as bone scans,
urine and blood tests) also exist. Ask your physician about screening
* The decision to have a bone density
test is based on your risk factors and should be done if the results
will help you to decide about treatment.
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Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis
than men because they have lighter, thinner bones and lose bone
mass rapidly. However, other factors are believed to contribute
to an individual's likelihood of developing the disease. Some of
these risk factors may include the following:
- Family history of osteoporosis.
- Over 50 years old.
- Low hormone levels
In women - as a result of decreased estrogen production or premature
- as a result of decreased testosterone production.
- Diet low in calcium.
- Eating disorders (such as anorexia
nervosa or bulimia).
- Excessive use of alcohol.
- Cigarette smoking.
- An inactive lifestyle. Exercise
builds bone strength and helps prevent bone loss. Physical activity
is essential for keeping muscles toned, joints flexible, and bones
- Thin and/or small frame.
- Use of certain medications (corticosteroids
- Inflammatory disorders (rheumatoid
arthritis, asthma, lupus).
- Chronic kidney, liver, lung and
- Breast or prostate cancer.
* Women can lose up to 20% of their
bone mass in the 5-7 years following menopause, making them more
susceptible to osteoporosis.
with a low body mass index (BMI)
are likely to have a lower-than-average peak bone mass.
Although there is no "cure" for osteoporosis,
there are some medications and treatments available to slow bone
loss and, in some cases, even help you build bone mass.
- Calcium and/or vitamin D supplementation.
- Osteoporosis treatment medications
(such a calcitonin or biophosphonates).
- Low-dose estrogen replacement therapy
is one preventive and therapeutic option for women, but the treatment
does have known side effects.
- Testosterone replacement or use
of other medications specifically indicated for men.
- Even a moderate increase in physical
activity (walking, weight training, riding a stationary bike or
low-impact aerobics) can increase bone mass and, potentially,
decrease long-term fracture risk. However, physical activity alone
is not sufficient to fully offset the damaging effects of osteoporosis.
* It is important to consult your
physician and thoroughly discuss all treatment options available
and potential risks involved before making a decision.
Prevention (lifestyle changes, diet,
Prevention of osteoporosis begins at
childhood and continues throughout life. Exercise plays an important
role in the acquisition of bone mass in youth; can help maintain
or even modestly increase bone density in adulthood and; can assist
in minimizing age related bone loss in older adults. Many factors
influence the normal growth, development, and maintenance of bone
and here are some steps you can take to promote and maintain bone
- Ensure a balanced diet with adequate
intake of calcium and vitamin D (excessive intake of other nutrients,
such as sodium, can decrease calcium intake).
- Maintain a physically active lifestyle.
Regular weight-bearing exercises (walking, jogging, riding a stationary
bike, using a rowing machine, weight training or playing tennis)
helps to build bone and muscle strength.
- Avoid smoking.
- If you drink, do so in moderation.
- Bone density testing and/or medications
is the main building block of bone and is essential for bone health.
But calcium intake alone will not ensure healthy bones.