10 Things You Should Know About Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is one of the most common diseases in the country, affecting more than 10 million Americans with another 30 million at risk. In honor of National Osteoporosis Month this May, Dr. Paul Miller – world renowned bone health expert, has given us his 10 fundamentals of osteoporosis.
Top 5 Things to Know about Osteoporosis
1. What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease in humans and it literally means “porous bones.” It is characterized by decreased bone strength and an increased susceptibility to fractures. Bone strength is a measurement of your bone density and bone quality. The clinical diagnosis of osteoporosis is made when an individual falls from standing height and sustains a fracture.
The World Health Organization (WHO) diagnosis of osteoporosis can be made by a specific bone mineral density (BMD) value done by the very low radiation exposure test called Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA) which is covered by Medicare and most insurance plans. Often times, osteoporosis is considered the silent disease because you cannot feel your bones degenerating and 2/3 of fractures in the spine have no pain.
2. Men get Osteoporosis Too
Although women are affected earlier and more commonly than men, 1 in 5 men will be affected by osteoporosis and when they are, they are more likely to experience a fracture; additionally, mortality is far greater in men than women for similar fractures.
1 in 3 women will be affected and typically start to see signs of the disease 10 years earlier. Ethnicity and body size also increase your risk for osteoporosis. White and Asian women and those with low body weight or family histories of osteoporosis are also at higher risk.
3. What’s so Bad about Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis itself merely causes your bones to become weak and brittle, the results however mean increased risk of fracture. When fracture occurs, many other issues ensue:
- Days in the hospital increase
- Risk of refracture increases
- 28% of women and 37% of men who suffer a hip fracture die within one year
- 15% – 25% of those who suffer hip fracture require admission to a nursing home.
4. Bone Density Loss is a Normal Part of Aging
At age 40 we start to lose bone mass and density. For women this process typically accelerates after menopause to a rate of 1.5% to 2% per year and is due to a change in hormones. In men, the loss of bone mass and density is usually due to a drop in physical activity. On occasion, men will also have hormonal changes as they age that leads to a loss of bone mass and density.
5. Prevention Should Start Early
Prevention of osteoporosis should start early, we reach our peak bone mass and density between the ages of 25 and 30. To keep our bones healthy, we can do simple things like exercise, eat well, ensure that we are getting enough vitamins and minerals, and keep an eye on our overall health. After 40 our bones will naturally begin to weaken—it is important to build them up as much as we can to prevent letting our bones get to the critically weak levels of osteoporosis.
5 Tips to Help Treat and Prevent Osteoporosis
1. Screening Should be Done Early and Often
A key piece of treating and preventing osteoporosis is knowing the density and quality of your bones. If you have no extra risk for osteoporosis, you should begin getting bone scans at 65 if you are female and 70 if you are male. A bone scan is done using a DEXA machine, which stands for dual energy x-ray absorptiometry.
Standard recommendations in the United States are that all post-menopausal women with one or more risk factors for osteoporosis 65 years of age or older receive a DEXA screening. Risk factors include a mother or father with a prior history of osteoporosis, prolonged use of glucocorticoids (steroids), or known osteoporosis as diagnosed by DEXA.
2. Get the Right Kind of Calcium and Vitamins
Getting the right kind of calcium and vitamins can help support the bones and give them the right nutrients to remain strong. Dr. Miller recommends the following doses of Calcium and Vitamin D:
- Calcium: 1200 mg daily
- Vitamin D: 1000 – 2000 IU daily
* Please note – Dr. Miller often recommends that women older than 50 years of age take greater amounts of calcium and vitamin D on a daily basis than the amounts recommended by the National Osteoporosis Foundation. This decision should be individualized for each patient’s unique needs.
Exercise is a great tool for helping to strengthen bones. Exercise doesn’t require new clothes or expensive equipment. You can walk the dog more often, park farther away from the store, find a friend to exercise with you and increase your exercise tolerance gradually. Some exercises are better than other for your bones.
Dr. Miller recommends fall prevention strategies for all patients 65 years of age and older – even if you think your balance is great.
Improving balance is a life long (and fun) commitment: gentle yoga, pilates and other exercise programs, like those offered in the Panorama Balance Clinic and Silver Sneakers, aimed at improving bone density, flexibility, posture, balance, skeletal alignment, aerobic fitness and muscle size can reduce the risk of falls. These exercises have a double benefit of strengthening bones and improving balance. Reducing fall risk can help negate the ill-effects of osteoporosis like hip fracture.
4. Get Outside
By getting outside and spending some time in the sun, your body will increase its vitamin D production. It is important to remember sunscreen to protect your skin but just 10 – 15 minutes per day can help increase your vitamin D. Additionally, you can add a little bit of light exercise to your time outside and help build those strong bones.
5. Find the Right Kind of Doctor if you Need Medication
Should you find that you need to begin taking medication for your osteoporosis, it is very important to find the right doctor to help guide your medication. There are many options available to you and your doctor will be able to help decipher which is best for your condition.
These are just the basics of osteoporosis and the things you can do to help protect your bones, for more information and tips you can visit the Colorado Center for Bone Research website.