Osteoporosis is the medical term used to describe bone loss that frequently occurs with aging. To raise awareness of the condition, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has declared May as Osteoporosis Awareness Month. According to the CDC, more than one million people break a bone each year because they live with osteoporosis. It affects more than 10 million Americans today, and the CDC estimates that half of all Americans over age 50 will have an increased risk of osteoporosis-related fractures by 2020.
With the youngest of the Baby Boomer generation now over age 50, it’s more important than ever to increase awareness of the risk factors, symptoms, and prevention strategies of osteoporosis. Some medical professionals refer to osteoporosis as the silent disease because it often produces no symptoms at first, including pain. Many people don’t realize that they have osteoporosis until they experience a bone fracture that they can’t otherwise explain.
Causes and Risk Factors of Osteoporosis
It surprises many people to learn that bone is a living tissue just like skin and hair. That means that new bone replaces old bone throughout the lifespan, which ensures that it becomes stronger and denser. Starting at around age 35, some people have difficulty producing replacement bone as fast as the old bone deteriorates. For people with a strong bone mass, the gradual loss of mineral from bones doesn’t usually cause any problems. However, it can lead to osteoporosis for people who already have weak bone mass.
When a person experiences their first bone fracture due to osteoporosis, it’s typically of their wrist, spine, or hip. The first noticeable sign is often an obviously curved spine, referred to as dowager’s hump in medical terms. A decrease in height is another common indication of osteoarthritis. This occurs due to bone loss in the spine. If you or a family member display these symptoms, it’s important to bring them to a doctor’s attention as soon as possible. He or she will conduct a bone density test, which is comparable to an X-ray for the spine.
Like most health conditions, osteoporosis comes with risk factors that you can control as well as those you can’t control. The most common risk factors associated with this condition include:
- Alcohol abuse
- Certain medications
- Diabetes, kidney disease, thyroid disorder, and other specific health issues
- Excessive amount of fat around the abdomen
- Family history
- Inadequate intake of Vitamin D and calcium
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Underweight or small-boned body type
- Women past the age of menopause due to a decreased amount of estrogen, which is an essential hormone that helps to build bone
If you have at least a few of these risk factors but don’t yet have a diagnosis of osteoporosis, it’s important to do everything you can to control them.
Prevention Tips for Osteoporosis
The bad news about osteoporosis is that it isn’t usually possible to replace lost bone. This is the reason that providers at UPMC Western Maryland focus on retaining the bone that you do have and slowing down the loss of additional bone. You can take an active part in this process by doing some or all of the following:
Consume adequate amounts of calcium: Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are a good source of calcium, but not everyone can tolerate them. You can still receive calcium by consuming soy flour, tofu, tortillas, sesame seeds, dried beans, dark green leafy vegetables, canned sardines, or canned salmon.
Drink alcoholic beverages only in moderation and quit smoking: Overindulging in either of these habits can weaken your bones, and drinking too much can increase the risk of falling and sustaining a bone fracture.
Establish a system for fall prevention: This is important for everyone, not just those with a risk of developing osteoporosis. Be sure to keep your home free of clutter and that any mats or rugs have a slip-free designation on them. Additionally, don’t skip your regular eye exams and discuss a balance training program with your provider if you seem to struggle in this area. If you need to start using a cane or walker, make sure that a healthcare provider shows you how to use them correctly.
Maintain a healthy body weight: Both underweight and overweight body conditions increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis. Keep in mind that extensive diets for weight loss can cause you to lose bone as well as weight. If you need to lose weight, speak to your primary care provider at UPMC Western Maryland regarding the healthiest way to go about it.
Stay active: An active lifestyle decreases your risk of this health condition, but it’s important to check with your doctor before starting any type of exercise program.
Take medication exactly as prescribed: Your doctor may prescribe medication to control pain, slow bone loss, or manage the symptoms of other health conditions that increase the risk of osteoporosis. It’s important to follow the specific directions for each, including the dosage, time of day, and whether to take with food or liquid. Since some non-prescription drugs can increase the risk of osteoporosis, be sure to update your doctor regularly about all medication that you take.
We encourage you to schedule an appointment with your UPMC Western Maryland primary care provider if you think you could have osteoporosis.
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