Blog Post

Health brief: Take steps to help prevent osteoporosis

Healthy bone, left, resembles a web or honeycomb. With osteoporosis, the bone weakens and spaces develop, which increases the risk of fractures.

Osteoporosis, which means “porous bone,” is a disease that makes bones weak and brittle. When viewed under a microscope, healthy bone looks like a honeycomb. In osteoporosis, the holes and spaces in the honeycomb are much larger than in healthy bone. Bones that have lost density or mass are more likely to break.

Is it serious?
Broken bones can be very serious for older adults, especially since fractures are most likely to occur in the hip, spine or wrist. Twenty percent of seniors who break a hip die within a year from complications or surgery. Many patients who survive require long-term nursing home care. In addition to broken bones, osteoporosis may cause permanent pain, loss of height or hunched posture, limited mobility, and isolation or depression.

Who is at risk?
Osteoporosis occurs most often in people 50 and older. Approximately 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, and another 44 million have low bone density, placing them at increased risk for developing the disease. For women, the incidence is greater than that of heart attack, stroke and breast cancer combined.

About half of women and a quarter of men will break a bone in their lifetime due to osteoporosis.
Health problems that increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis include autoimmune, blood, gastrointestinal and neurological disorders; breast or prostate cancer; diabetes; Parkinson’s disease; chronic liver or kidney disease; and COPD. If you have any of these conditions, talk to your health care provider about what you can do to keep your bones healthy.

In addition, some medications, including steroids, can be harmful to your bones. It’s important to talk with your health care provider about the risks and benefits of any medicines you take and how they may affect your bones. Do not stop any treatment or change the dose of your medicines unless your health care provider says it’s safe to do so. If you need to take a medicine that causes bone loss, work with your doctor to determine the lowest possible dose you can take to control your symptoms.

What can I do?
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), diet, exercise and a healthy lifestyle are key to preventing and managing the disease. NOF recommends the following steps to improve bone health and prevent osteoporosis and broken bones.
• Get the calcium and vitamin D you need every day.
• Do regular weight-bearing and muscle strengthening exercises.
• Don’t smoke and don’t drink alcohol in excess.
• Talk to your health care provider about your risk for osteoporosis and ask when you should have a bone density test.
• Take an osteoporosis medication when it’s determined to be right for you.

Source: National Osteoporosis Foundation