The Breakdown on Osteoporosis
By: Dr. Janna Davis
Being diagnosed with osteoporosis can be both emotionally and practically challenging. Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue. Known as the “silent disease” because bone loss occurs without symptoms, osteoporosis can lead to bone fragility and an increased susceptibility to fractures.
About 10 million people in the United States are estimated to have osteoporosis – eight million women and two million men. Another 34 million are estimated to have low bone mass, which places them at risk for the disease.
Many people may not know they have the disease until their bones become so weak that a sudden fall causes a fracture or a collapsed vertebra.
Typical fracture sites include the hip, spine, wrist and ribs. These fractures often require hospitalization and sometimes surgery. Hip fractures occur two to three times more in women than men, but the one year mortality following a hip fracture is almost twice as high for men as it is for women.
Other symptoms of osteoporosis include low back pain, neck pain, bone pain or tenderness, loss of height over time and stooped posture.
There are several risk factors that increase one’s likelihood of developing osteoporosis. They include:
- Personal history of fracture after age 50
- Current low bone mass
- Being female
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Being thin or having a small frame
- Low lifetime calcium intake
- Low testosterone levels in men
- Inactive lifestyle
- Current cigarette smoking
- Excessive use of alcohol
- Vitamin D deficiency
Osteoporosis is thought of as an older person's disease, but it can affect all ages.
Treatments for the disease often focus on slowing down or stopping bone loss. Bone density tests can measure a person’s bone density, detecting osteoporosis before a fracture occurs. The test can also predict a person’s chance of fracturing in the future.
But the best way to treat osteoporosis is to prevent it. Building strong bones during childhood can defend the body against osteoporosis later. Eating a diet filled with calcium and Vitamin D helps to build strong bones. Milk, cheese and yogurt are just a few of the foods that contain calcium.
People receive Vitamin D through their skin from sunlight and from the food they eat. Vitamin D can be found in fortified dairy products, egg yolks and saltwater fish.
Talk with your health care provider to find out if you’re getting enough calcium and Vitamin D in your diet. Supplements may be available.
Participating in regular, weight-bearing exercises and a life without smoking or excessive alcohol intake can also prevent the onset of osteoporosis.
- Dr. Janna Davis is a family medicine physician affiliated with UM Baltimore Washington Medical Center. To reach Dr. Davis please call 410-553-8090.