Few of us worry about our bones’ fragility until a fracture occurs. While osteoporosis cannot be cured, new treatments are being developed and approved as this disease increasingly affects our aging population.
Dr. Maja Visekruna, MD, CCD, makes the point in a recent article in the Minnesota Health Care News that the more we build up our bones through healthy exercise and dietary habits when we’re young, the better we can protect ourselves as we age from osteoporosis and potentially life threatening fractures loom.
Osteoporosis resulting in fractures affecting 1 out of every 2 women and 1 out of 4 men over the age of 50. Eighty percent of people with osteoporosis are female, which makes an important women’s health issue. Complications usually related to fractures make osteoporosis the fourth leading cause of death among women. Caucasian and Asian women have a higher risk due to their bone density being five to ten percent lower than women of Latino, African-American, or Mediterranean decent.
Nearly one third of women who reach the age of 80 suffer hip fractures. A woman’s risk of a hip fracture equals the combined risks of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers. The risk of dying from a hip fracture is equal to the risk of dying from breast cancer. For men over the age of 50, the lifetime risk of a fracture caused by osteoporosis is thirty percent – the same as their risk of developing prostate cancer.
Osteoporosis is often called the “silent disease” because bone loss occurs without symptoms. In most cases, the first “symptom” is a broken bone. Some bone breaks may not be noticed right away, such as vertebral fractures. These fractures can happen just by bending, turning, lifting, or coughing and sneezing. Eventually, multiple broken vertebrae cause pain, loss of height, or a hump on the back, known as dowager’s hump (kyphosis).
Considering the risk factors associated with osteoporosis can point to ways to prevent it. Risk factors include:
- Insufficient calcium intake and vitamin D deficiency
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Smoking and/or excessive alcohol consumption
- Hormonal imbalances related to diabetes, thyroid and parathyroid disorders
- High risk medications, such as steroids, anti-seizure medications, Depo-Provera, and certain cancer treatments.
- Mal-absorption issues – celiac disease, gastric bypass surgery, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease.
Osteoporosis is preventable and can be treated. You can help prevent bone loss and fractures with proper diet, exercise, and, when necessary, medications.
If you have a family member with osteoporosis, they are at higher risk of falls and broken bones. An elder who has in-home care and support reduces their risk.