Know your bones: Understanding what you can do to improve your bone health
Special to The Union
Osteoporosis: Signs and symptoms
There typically are no symptoms in the early stages of bone loss. But once your bones have been weakened by osteoporosis, you might have signs and symptoms that include:
— Back pain, caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra
— Loss of height over time
— A stooped posture
— A bone that breaks much more easily than expected
Source: Mayo Clinic
Approximately 10 million Americans are living with osteoporosis – a disease of the bone that weakens bones and makes them more likely to break. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, an additional 44 million Americans have low bone density, which puts them at increased risk for developing osteoporosis over time.
To understand osteoporosis, we must understand that bone is living tissue. Our bodies continually break down old bone and replace it with new bone tissue. This helps to keep our bones strong and prevent breaks.
However sometime around age 30, bone mass stops increasing and that deteriorating bone tissue stops being replaced at the same rate.
“As people enter their 40s and 50s, more bone may be broken down than is replaced,” explains Linda Waring, Director of Diagnostic Imaging and Radiation Oncology at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. “The goal of good bone health is to keep as much bone as possible for as long as you can.”
The NOF says that half of all adults over the age of 50 are at risk for breaking a bone and should be concerned about bone health and their osteoporosis risk.
“Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones to the point where they break easily—most often, bones in the hip, backbone (spine), and wrist,” explains Linda Waring, Director of Diagnostic Imaging and Radiation Oncology at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. “Osteoporosis is called a ‘silent disease’ because you may not notice any changes until a bone breaks. All the while, though, your bones had been losing strength for many years.”
Osteoporosis is responsible for an estimated two million broken bones every year in our country. Yet it is dramatically under-diagnosed: According to the NOF, nearly 80 percent of older Americans who suffer bone breaks are not even tested or treated for osteoporosis.
For people over the age of 50, bone fractures can prove very serious. The NOF says that 24 percent of hip fracture patients age 50 and older die within a year following the fracture. One-quarter of hip older fracture patients end up in nursing homes and half never regain previous function.
Fortunately, prevention is possible. The first step is understanding the risk factors for osteoporosis. A variety of factors can increase the likelihood that you will develop osteoporosis. This includes certain risk factors that can’t be controlled like your gender (women are at higher risk); age (risk increases with age); race (those of white or Asian descent are at highest risk); family history; and body frame and size (men and women with small, thin frames have a greater risk).
Other risk factors are related to hormone levels; dietary factors; use of steroids and other medications; and certain medical conditions, including celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney or liver disease, cancer, lupus, multiple myeloma and rheumatoid arthritis.
Lifestyle choices like tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and a lack of exercise, can also increase your risk.
For those at higher risk for osteoporosis, a screening test known as a bone density test may be recommended.
“Bone density is done by a physician order,” explains Waring. “The test is covered by most insurance and Medicare covers bone density once every 24 months or more often, if medically necessary.”
Waring points out that osteoporosis is not just a woman’s disease and says women and men both need to be mindful of their bone health.
“Not as many men as women are affected by osteoporosis and that is because men start their lives with more bone density,” Waring says. “However, as they age, men lose bone density and need to be aware of osteoporosis too.”
Waring says it’s important to do what you can to improve your bone health before it becomes a problem.
“Weight bearing exercise, weight training, walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, tennis and dancing – these are all activities that are good for our bones,” Waring explains. “Eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D also helps. And as we get older, it’s a good idea to fall proof your home and change your lifestyle to avoid fracturing fragile bones.”
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