Prevention Is Key in the Fight Against Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease of the skeleton, in which bones become fragile and prone to breaks. Millions of Americans are at risk for developing this serious ailment.

Although men can develop osteoporosis, women are four times more likely than men to suffer from the disease. It is important that women take the time to educate themselves about prevention, detection and treatment.

Osteoporosis is a progressive disease that causes bones to become brittle, weak and vulnerable to fractures. Your risk of osteoporosis increases with age. In severe cases, minor injuries such as a soft bump or even a heavy cough can result in breakage. Fractures typically occur in the hip, spine and wrist.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) estimates that 10 million individuals currently are afflicted with the disease, and another 34 million have low bone density, which puts them at risk for developing osteoporosis. The good news is that this debilitating disease can be prevented and treated.

The following tips can help you prevent osteoporosis:

  • Increase the amount of calcium in your diet (calcium increases bone strength). Men and women between the ages of 19 and 50 should get about 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium daily, while those over 50 should consume 1,200 mg. Calcium supplements may be necessary for those who do not consume enough calcium-rich foods.
  • Ask your physician about the variety of medications that are available to prevent bone loss. Most of these medications are designed to inhibit the growth of cells that break down bone; your physician can explain the benefits and risks associated with each.
  • Engage in regular weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, jogging, stair climbing, tennis, weight-training or dancing. These activities not only relieve stress, but also build muscle and help improve balance, reducing your risk of falling.

Bone density screenings are essential for those at risk. Current scanning technology uses low-level radiation to measure density and detect early bone loss; it is much more effective than x-ray. You should have a screening every one to two years to measure changes in bone density. You are at risk for osteoporosis if you:

  • Are a woman
  • Are growing older
  • Are either Caucasian or Asian (although, African-American and Hispanic women also are at risk)
  • Have a family history of fractures
  • Have low estrogen (or low testosterone, if you are a man)
  • Have anorexia
  • Are a cigarette smoker
  • Have a diet low in calcium and vitamin D
  • Use oral steroids or some anticonvulsants
  • Lead an inactive lifestyle
  • Consume excessive alcohol

There is no cure for osteoporosis, but treatments to combat bone deterioration do exist. In addition to prescribing calcium supplements, many physicians will prescribe medications to patients diagnosed with osteoporosis, in order to prevent further bone loss. Discussing all options with a physician is the best way to develop a plan suited for individual needs.

About the Author

Varsha Bhan, MD, is a board-certified internist at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest. To make an appointment with Dr. Bhan, call 1-800-3-ADVOCATE  (1-800-323-8622 ).

Advocate South Suburban Hospital is a 289-bed, acute care facility that serves Chicago’s South suburbs. In addition to offering a wide array of health care services, the not-for-profit hospital provides free screenings and a variety of other outreach services throughout the community.

As part of Advocate Health Care—one of the leading, integrated health care systems in the nation—Advocate South Suburban Hospital can be reached at www.advocatehealth.com/southsub or by calling  1-800-3-ADVOCATE   ( 1-800-323-8622).

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