What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a debilitaring disease in which bones become fragile and are more likely to break. In most cases, it can be prevented and treated but if steps are not taken, it progresses painlessly until a bone breaks.
Osteoporosis affects more than 28 million Americans, 80% of whom are women. In the United States today, 10 million already have osteoporosis and 18 million more have low bone mass placing them at increased risk for developing this disease.
The consequences of osteoporosis are devastating. Each year in the United States this disease leads to 1.5 million fractures, mostly of the hip, spine and wrist, although any bone can be affected. Low bone density can be identified, and appropriate steps can be taken before osteoporosis and fractures occur.
Are You at Risk?
Several factors can increase your chances of developing osteoporosis:
- Gender – women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men due to thinner, lighter bones and the decrease in estrogen production that occurs during menopause.
- Age – the longer you live, the greater the likelihood of developing osteoporosis. Although all of us lose bone tissue as we age, the amount and rate of loss varies widely with each individual.
- Family History – susceptibility to osteoporosis is due in part to heredity. If you have had a fracture as an adult or a parent has had a fracture, you are more likely to have low bone mass than your peers.
- Ethnicity – Caucasian and Asian women are at highest risk; African and Hispanic women are at lower but significant risk.
- Body Size – low body weight (under 127 lbs) and a small-boned frame place you at increased risk.
- Lifestyle – a diet low in calcium, inadequate vitamin D, little or no exercise, current cigarette smoking or excessive use of alcohol are all risk factors for this debilitating disease.
Four Steps to Optimal Bone Health
These steps work together to reduce your risk for developing osteoporosis. If you already have osteoporosis, they can slow or stop bone loss, increase bone density, and reduce your risk of fractures.
You may need to make certain changes in your daily life to avoid falls or other situations likely to cause an injury. Making your environment fall proof is not difficult:
- Wear sturdy, low-heeled, soft-soled shoes; avoid floppy slippers and sandals.
- Ask your doctor whether any medication you are taking can cause dizziness, light-headedness or loss of balance.
- Minimize clutter throughout the home.
- Secure all rugs; avoid small throw rugs that can slide.
- Keep halls, stairs and entries well lighted.
- Use nightlights in the bedroom and bath.
- Use grab bars and nonskid tape in the shower or tub
- In the kitchen, use nonskid rubber mats near the sink and stove.
Exercise is an important part of any osteoporosis prevention or treatment program. While exercise alone cannot prevent osteoporosis, weight-bearing and resistance-training exercises have been shown to play an important role in balance and coordination. Exercise helps maintain bone mass, which in turn, lowers the risk of developing this disease.
Exercise that forces you to work against gravity — weight-bearing exercises — are most beneficial. Examples are walking, jogging, racquet sports, hiking, dancing and stair climbing.
If you have osteoporosis, you should speak to your doctor or ask for a referral to a specialist in physical medicine to learn what type of exercises you can do safely not only to preserve bone, but also to strengthen your back and hips and maintain flexibility and balance.
One exercise that is appropriate for almost everyone is WALKING. Most people find walking outdoors more satisfying than walking indoors, but should the climate or your circumstances make this undesirable, walking indoors is a good substitute. Many enclosed malls encourage “mall walking,” and some even have organized walking clubs. Some community centers and schools make their indoor track facilities available to members of the community after school hours.
The FDA has approved the following medications to prevent and/or treat osteoporosis: alendronate, calcitonin, estrogen/hormone replacement therapy (ERT/HRT), raloxifene and risedronate. All of these medications may increase bone mass and reduce bone loss and fracture risk to varying degrees. Alendronate and risedronate are also approved for use in gluco-corticoid-induced (steroid) osteoporosis in men and women.