May is Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month
If you or your loved one has this condition, are you doing everything possible to manage the disease and prevent further bone loss?
Osteoporosis is a loss of bone that can occur as we age. It is responsible for over a million broken bones each year, and is a major cause of fractures, back pain and spinal problems. Of the 25 million Americans who have osteoporosis, 20 million are women.
To understand what causes osteoporosis, it's important to know that our bones are actually a living tissue. All through our lives, bone is constantly being replaced by new bone. In young people, the bones become denser and stronger. But when we are around age 35, bone building no longer keeps up with bone loss. For persons who have a strong bone mass, this gradual loss of minerals from the bones may not cause problems. But when loss of bone density is so great that bones fracture easily, the person is said to have osteoporosis.
It is important that osteoporosis be diagnosed early, so that measures can be taken to slow the bone loss. As it develops, osteoporosis is often painless, with no obvious symptoms. In most cases, the first sign is a fracture, most often of the hip, spine or wrist. The person with osteoporosis may develop a noticeably curved spine (sometimes called a "dowager's hump"). Another sign is a decrease of height, which is caused by loss of bone in the spine.
Several risk factors increase the likelihood of osteoporosis:
- a family history of the condition
- women past menopause (who have a lowered amount of estrogen, a hormone important in building bones)
- inadequate intake of calcium and Vitamin D
- an inactive lifestyle
- small-boned and/or underweight body type
- use of certain medications
- medical conditions such as liver or kidney disease, diabetes, or thyroid problems
- use of alcohol or tobacco.
For the most part, once bone has been lost, it cannot be replaced. So the goal in treating osteoporosis is to maintain existing bone and to stop further loss. Here are some things you can do:
- Get enough calcium. Some good sources of calcium are dairy products, dark leafy green vegetables, dried beans, canned sardines and salmon, sesame seeds, tofu, tortillas and soy flour. Your health care provider may also recommend calcium and Vitamin D supplements.
- Stay active. Exercise encourages bone growth—and inactivity encourages bone loss. You should keep physically active as much as possible. (Be sure to consult your health care provider before beginning an exercise program.) In addition, physical therapy can help strengthen muscles and make fractures less likely.
- Avoid prolonged weight loss diets. While you're losing weight, you may also be losing bone.
- Limit alcohol and tobacco. Both of these substances contribute to weakened bone in a variety of ways.
- Manage your medications. If your physician has given you a prescription for a bone-loss prevention drug or hormone replacement therapy, be sure to take your medication as directed.
While some of the risk factors for osteoporosis—such as body type, family history, and age—are beyond our control, others are lifestyle choices. People who follow the above suggestions lessen the likelihood of developing osteoporosis. And though in most cases lost bone mass cannot be replaced, the same preventative measures can also slow the loss.