Osteoporosis: Why Do Bones Get Thin?
By Dr. Roseann Horan
Most people know that osteoporosis affects the bones, but some might not know how common it is in America. About 54 million Americans have the disease, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. While it does affect about one in two women, the foundation says one in four men age 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
The biggest concern with osteoporosis is risk of fractures due to a decrease in bone mass. The less dense your bones become the more likely you are to suffer a break. While a broken bone might not seem serious it can lead to very serious complications; especially in people who are older.
Broken bones can lead to disabilities with the inability to resume the former level of function. Hip fractures can lead to immobility, which can result in serious health concerns such as pressure sores, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolisms, and pneumonia. About 25 to 30 percent of patients who suffer a hip fracture die within one year. Proper diagnosis and treatment is needed to prevent further health issues as we age.
Causes of Osteoporosis
Peak bone mass happens fairly early in life; 18 years old for women and 20 years old for males. Those who never reach peak bone mass are more susceptible to osteoporosis. For women, menopause can lead to low bone density especially within the first five years after menopause. Another cause of osteoporosis is a lack of calcium in your daily diet. Women under the age of 50 and men under the age of 70 should consume around 1,000 mg of calcium per day. For women over 50 and men over 70 should consume around 1,200 mg per day.
It is recommended that you get most of your daily calcium from foods such milk, cheese, yogurt, and certain fruits and vegetables. While you can take a calcium supplement, no more than 500mg per day should come from those supplements. Of course, certain habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol can interfere with calcium absorption in the body.
Calcium isn’t the only way to prevent osteoporosis. Getting plenty of Vitamin D and physical activity can keep bones strong. Our main source of Vitamin D comes from the sun, however, you can also take supplements to ensure you’re getting the right amount.
Between 30 and 60 minutes of daily activity such as walking, running and other weight-bearing exercises, can also help prevent thin bones.
Testing and Diagnosing
While these prevention methods are known to help keep bones strong, if your family has a history of osteoporosis, you may still be at risk of developing the disease. Regardless of your activity level or your family history you should be tested for osteoporosis once you reach a certain age.
Women age 65 and older and men age 70 and older should be tested for osteoporosis every two years through a DEXA Scan; a painless X-ray scan that measures bone loss. A DEXA scan can assess your risk of developing fractures and can track the effectiveness of treatment for patients diagnosed with osteoporosis. These tests are performed in the Silver Cross Center for Women’s Health and can be scheduled online or by calling 815-300-7076. What’s really great is that if you also need a mammogram, Silver Cross can perform both tests during the same appointment.
If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, there are several medications that your doctor can prescribe to help reduce the risk of fractures and even increase bone density. As always, you should talk to your doctor about when you should start being tested for osteoporosis.
Dr. Roseann Horan has been practicing medicine for over 22 years, focusing mainly on women’s health. She is currently on staff at Women’s Primary Health Partners, located in Homer Glen, which is associated with Silver Cross Hospital.