The Silent Bone Disease: What You Should Know About Osteoporosis
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Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle—so brittle that a fall or even mild stresses such as bending over or coughing can cause a fracture.
There’s no cure for osteoporosis or osteopenia—the loss of bone mineral density that weakens the bones but is not as severe as osteoporosis—and Riva Rahl, MD, Cooper Clinic Platinum Medical Director, says early detection is key to slowing the disease.
“If the disease is caught early, we’re able to intervene with appropriate medication, diet recommendations and a bone-strengthening exercise regimen to help slow the progression of the disease,” Rahl said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 19% of women 50 years of age and older have osteoporosis of the femur neck (connects to hip bone) or lumbar spine. Unfortunately, in most cases, osteoporosis isn’t detected until the patient suffers a “fragility fracture,” due to decreased bone density.
Though, with proper screening you can keep osteoporosis in check. Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) is commonly used to measure bone health. DEXA, which is offered at Cooper Clinic, is an enhanced, low-radiation X-ray used to measure bone density. The screening takes approximately 15 minutes to complete and is most often performed on the lower spine and hips.
For bone density measurements, Cooper Clinic recommends having a baseline DEXA scan at the following ages:
- Women: age 35 baseline
- Men: age 60 baseline
We know osteoporosis can develop as a result of aging, but that isn’t the only factor. In fact, you might be at risk without even knowing it.
Here’s a list of what could put you at risk of osteoporosis.
Not only are women at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis than men, but Caucasian women who weigh less than 127 lbs. are at an even higher risk for developing the bone disease. “There’s less weight pulling on your bones,” Michele Kettles, MD, MSPH, Cooper Clinic Chief Medical Officer, said.
“That’s why walking and weight-bearing exercises are great for bone density, because we pound on our bones.” Kettles says women who walk regularly can lower their risk for fracture, especially smaller women. For men, weighing less than 154 lbs. can increase the risk for osteoporotic fracture.
Going through menopause is also a risk factor for developing osteoporosis. “Some women lose a lot of bone mass during menopause,” says Kettles. “Often times, there can be a genetic component tied to that as well.” Kettles says women are often monitored for bone density around the time they would enter menopause. “You want to catch those women who are losing a lot of bone mass and do whatever you can to address it before it crosses over into osteoporosis,” says Kettles.
Watch video: Top 4 Exercises for Pre- and Post-Menopausal Women
People who take certain medications, such as steroids, are at a higher risk for osteoporosis, even if they are prescribed for medical purposes such as asthma, infection or other orthopedic issues. Anti-seizure medication and thyroid medication can also put patients at a risk for bone loss.
Family history matters. “We know there are genes for osteoporosis,” explains Kettles. “But we’re not yet at a point where we can reliably test individuals for those genes and use that information.” However, Kettles says if osteoporosis runs in your family, you’re likely at a higher risk for developing bone loss down the road.
Kettles says being sedentary has the same implications. “Sitting on the couch and not bearing your weight can lead to bone loss,” says Kettles.
“Pounding the pavement” by performing weight-bearing physical activity—such as walking, running, jump roping, playing tennis, dancing and strength training—can help keep your bones strong, slowing the decline of bone density. Work with a professional fitness trainer to receive well-directed training and decrease your risk of injury.
Vitamin D deficiency
“We’ve known for 10 years now that low vitamin D is a medical problem,” says Kettles. A simple blood test can check your vitamin D levels and Kettles recommends everyone get tested. For those who have a severe deficiency, a prescription may be needed. “We often see a good rebound in bone density after the deficiency is treated,” says Kettles.
If decreased bone density is detected, talk with your physician about changing your diet to ensure you are getting enough vitamin D and calcium and incorporating weight-bearing exercise into your daily routine to slow the progression of osteopenia or osteoporosis.
Not achieving peak bone mass
“Some people simply don’t achieve peak bone mass in their youth,” explains Kettles. Like a lot of our growth, peak bone mass is often achieved by our early 20s. That means all of the bone mass you’re probably going to develop is grown by that point in your life. “Consuming adequate calcium during those bone growth years is vital,” says Kettles. “But, if you were a lactose intolerant kid, you may not have gotten enough calcium to achieve peak bone mass.”
Despite all of your best efforts, osteoporosis can still happen. That being said, a variety of treatment options are available today. Talk with your primary care physician, especially if you have one or more of the risk factors listed above.
For more information or to schedule a comprehensive preventive exam at Cooper Clinic, visit cooper-clinic.com or call 972.560.2667.