As people enter their forties and fifties, bones begin to break down faster than they are being rebuilt. This process weakens bones to the point that they break easily. This often involves bones in the hip, back and wrist. Osteoporosis is often called the “silent disease” because you may not be aware of the changes occurring in your bones until one of them breaks.
How common is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is common among White and Asian women. This is not to say that men do not get osteoporosis. It is less common in men because they start out with more bone density and lose it more slowly. Those at greater risk for the condition include individuals:
- With a smaller body frame
- Those with a family history of the disease
- Individuals who have had a broken bone as an adult
- Women who had surgery to remove their ovaries before their periods have stopped
- Women who have experienced early menopause
- Individuals who have not gotten enough calcium throughout their lives
- Those who have experienced extended periods of bed rest
- Individuals who have used certain types of medicines for long periods of time.
The risk of getting osteoporosis increases as you get older. Women experiencing menopause may lose bone quickly for several years before the rate of loss slows down. Men lose bone mass more slowly. Both men and women lose bone mass at the same rate as they approach 65 to 70 years old.
Many more Americans have a condition called osteopenia or low bone mass. If you have this condition, it is a warning to take action to prevent further bone loss.
What kinds of testing are available for osteoporosis?
While the disease is commonly associated with getting shorter or breaking a bone, seeing a doctor is the best way to confirm the condition. The most common test is a test for bone density or what some doctors may call a DEXA-scan. This test is suggested for people age 65 or older or those at risk for the disease. Please ask your physician for other testing options.
How can I prevent osteoporosis?
Fortunately there are many things you can do to prevent osteoporosis. Many of these occur in daily life.
- Getting enough calcium is very important and is quite easily done by eating low-fat dairy foods, fish such as salmon, dark green leafy vegetables, and calcium fortified foods like orange juice, bread, and cereal. People over 50 need about 1200 mg of calcium each day. The common forms of calcium include calcium citrate and calcium carbonate. You should exercise some caution though as too much calcium may cause problems for some people. You should take no more than 2000mg – 2500 mg of total calcium per day. This includes calcium from all sources such as supplements, foods and drinks.
- Get enough Vitamin D, because it helps in the absorption of calcium. Most people are able to get enough vitamin D from about 20 minutes of exposure to the sun. You can also get vitamin D from fatty fish, eggs, cereal and milk fortified with vitamin D. You should get:
- 400 IU if you are between the ages of 51 to 70
- 600 IU if you are over the age of 70
- As with calcium, too much vitamin D, above 2000 IU, can cause side effects.
- Doing weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, tennis, and dancing three to four times per week can help to strengthen your muscles and bones. You might try balance activities also, as they may help prevent falls, which can lead to broken bones.
- Be aware of some common medicines that can weaken bones. These include some types of arthritis, asthma and anti-seizure medications. Certain sleeping pills, cancer drugs and treatments for endometriosis can do the same. An overactive thyroid gland or medicines for an under active thyroid can also cause problems. If you are taking any of these medicines, please speak with your doctor about protecting your bones.
- Avoid an unhealthy lifestyle. Certain lifestyle behaviors such as smoking can cause a loss of bone mass. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to a fall resulting in broken bones.
What can I do if I already have osteoporosis?
While diet and exercise can help to strengthen bones, they may not be enough. See your doctor to discuss the latest treatments that utilize medications and hormones.
Reducing fall risks is important for those with weakened bones because falls can lead to hospitalizations. Here are some things you can do to reduce fall risks:
- Talk with your doctor if you think certain drugs you are taking are making you dizzy
- Don’t be too proud to use a cane or walker
- Wear rubber-soled and low-heeled shoes
- Make sure throw rugs are not on slippery surfaces or don’t use them
- Keep your room well lit and clutter free
- Use nightlights
- Eliminate electric cords across walkways
Where can I get more information?
National Osteoporosis Foundation
1232 22nd Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037-1292
National Institutes of Health
Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases-National Resource Center
2 AMS Circle
Bethesda, MD 20892-3676
National Library of Medicine
National Institute on Aging Information Center
P.O. Box 8057
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057
E-mail: [email protected]