Osteoporosis is a condition of fragile, brittle bones, and if not prevented or treated, can lead to easily breaking a bone like your rib or hip after a fall. Osteoporosis is a health threat for millions of Americans. It is estimated that 10 million people have the condition and over 30 million others have low bone mass, also known as osteopenia, placing them at risk for osteoporosis.
Although osteoporosis is more common in older people, and is thought of as an older person’s disease; it can strike at any age. Everyone loses some bone density (mass) as they age, however some will lose more, or lose it faster, than others. The rate at which we lose bone density depends on hormonal status, medical conditions like thyroid disease and even diet.
Approximately 80% of people affected by osteoporosis are women. This is due to the fact that women have lighter, thinner bones and can lose up to 20 percent of their bone density after menopause, which makes them more predisposed to the disease. A woman’s risk of osteoporosis is actually equal to her combined risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer. Other risk factors for osteoporosis include:
- older age
- a family history
- being petite and thin
- certain ethnicities, such as Caucasian and Asian
- a history of broken bones
- a poor diet, especially low in calcium, Vitamin D or if drinking numerous carbonated beverages
- low estrogen levels as in premature menopause or if ovaries are removed at a young age (< age 50)
- an inactive lifestyle
- smoking and excessive alcohol use
- certain medications, conditions & diseases
Since you cannot feel your bones getting weaker, you probably will not know you have osteoporosis until you break a bone. If you have osteoporosis, you can fracture a bone from a minor fall, or in extreme cases, from a simple sneeze. Spinal fractures may first be felt or seen in the form of severe back pain, loss of height, or spinal deformities. In many cases, a spinal fracture can even occur with no pain.
Because 85-90% of adult bone mass is acquired by age 18 in girls and 20 in boys, building strong bones during childhood and adolescence can help to prevent osteoporosis later in life. Several steps that you can take to optimize bone health and prevent osteoporosis are:
- Get your recommended daily amounts of calcium and vitamin D
- Participate in regular weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercise
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol
- Talk to your physician about bone health
- If appropriate, have a bone density test and take medication.
The only way to diagnose and determine your risk for osteoporosis is a Bone Mineral Density (BMD) test. A standard BMD screen is recommended at age 65 unless there are concerns sooner. A BMD measures bone mass and is necessary to determine whether you need medication to help maintain your bone mass, prevent further bone loss and reduce fracture risk. A BMD is accurate, painless and noninvasive.
Since osteoporosis can be undetected for decades, sometimes not until a fracture occurs, early diagnosis is important. It is never too early or too late to start your prevention program, so consult your physician at Greenville Women’s Care to learn more about the prevention and detection of osteoporosis.