May is National Osteoporosis Awareness month, and according to statistics from the National Osteoporosis Foundation, one in two women and up to one in four men over the age of 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis happens when bones in your body lose mass, or there’s less material in the bone, and it becomes less strong. The weaker a bone is, the more likely you will be prone to a bone fracture or break. Unlike so many other diseases or conditions, there are no tell-tale signs you might have osteoporosis. It’s not painful; it’s hard to identify with an X-ray; and the first sign is usually a bone break.
Women are much more prone to osteoporosis, and after age 50, your percentage increases even more. We recommend women age 65 or older get tested for osteoporosis even if you are in good health. Women with a family history of it, or other risk factors, could be encouraged to be tested as early as 40 years old.
The test, or bone density scan, is simple and painless. It measures bone density in different areas of the body, typically the spine, neck or wrist. For example, we know what a typical 60-year-old’s bone density should be and compare it to your bone density. If your levels are lower than a “typical” person of your age, we know you’re at risk for osteoporosis.
A leading risk factor in women for osteoporosis is menopause. What happens is women lose estrogen, which helps maintain bone density. Alcohol, smoking, steroids, low body weight and malabsorption diseases such as celiac disease, anemia and lactose intolerance are also factors that lead to osteoporosis. African-Americans are 5 percent, whites are 10 percent and the highest population of those at risk are Mexican and Hispanics, at 13 percent.
It’s estimated that by 2022, there will be 12.3 million people over age 50 who will be diagnosed with osteoporosis. Many of them are due to hip fractures. This is a serious event that unfortunately most of the time tells us a patient has osteoporosis. A fracture can happen in the lower body just from walking or falling.
One of the best ways to combat osteoporosis is to exercise. Bones respond to exercise. If you do moderate-intensity exercise, your bones will respond to that. The big recommendation is to do regular exercise that puts stress on your skeleton, causing bones to get stronger.
This doesn’t mean you need to go run a marathon. It just means walking, swimming or lifting weights are good examples of regular exercise. It’s been shown that as you age, you can actually reduce osteoporosis through exercise.
Leading a healthy lifestyle by eating right also helps combat osteoporosis. Incorporate calcium into your diet. I don’t suggest taking calcium supplements for bone health. They can be detrimental and cause kidney stones. It’s always better to consume 1,000 milligrams per day through your regular diet rather than taking supplements.
Many times we come into contact with patients after they’ve broken a bone due to osteoporosis. It’s my job as a physician to follow through with the patient and treat the osteoporosis appropriately afterward.
Treatment can be a combination of oral treatments and injectables. In the past, there were only oral medicines, but now you can get injectables once a week or per year.
Medicines coming out are aimed at reducing osteoporosis depending on your risk factors. The most common are bisphosphonates, used to prevent bone density loss. New treatments are coming out all the time.
If you think you are at risk for osteoporosis, it’s important to consult your health care provider. Dr. Gregory Palutsis is a board certified orthopaedic surgeon and a member of the medical staff at MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center. He is accepting new patients at MUSC Health-Orthopaedics, 1580 Freedom Boulevard, Suite 100, at the Florence Surgery Center. For more information, call 843-413-6835.