Improve Your Health

Osteoporosis: A Silent Thief

Most of us know about the importance of building stronger muscles. But what about stronger bones?

Having strong, healthy bones makes you less susceptible to osteoporosis, a disease that occurs when your body loses too much bone or makes too little of it. As a result, your bones become weak and brittle and are more likely to break. In more severe cases of osteoporosis, fractures can occur after even small things, such as sneezing or minor bumps.

Osteoporosis is a serious health issue and can lead to permanent pain. When it affects vertebrae, the bones of the spine, it can lead to a stooped or hunched posture and reduced height. Over time, it can also limit mobility, leading to depression and isolation. Bone breakage can result in the need for surgery and cause serious health complications including long-term nursing care or even death.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, an estimated 10 million people in the United States have osteoporosis. The condition tends to affect women more than men – up to 80 percent of those with osteoporosis are female. There are a few reasons for this. First, women tend to have smaller, thinner bones than men. Second, estrogen sharply decreases when women reach menopause, which can lead to bone loss.

Other factors that increase your risk for osteoporosis include the following.

  • Older age
  • Family history
  • Having a small body frame
  • Lowered sex hormones
  • Thyroid problems
  • Low calcium intake
  • A history of eating disorders
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

Osteoporosis is sometimes referred to as a “silent thief” because there typically aren’t any warning signs in the early stages of bone loss. It’s only after your bones are weakened that you may experience back pain, loss of height, stooped posture or bone fractures.

Osteoporosis can be diagnosed through a bone density test (DEXA scan). This test estimates the density of your bones and the likelihood a fracture may occur in the future.

If you have osteoporosis, treatment may include lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise. Medication is also used to help strengthen and build bone.

To help strengthen your bones and prevent osteoporosis, take the following steps.

  • Maintain a healthy body weight – Being underweight or overweight can both contribute to bone fractures.
  • Get enough calcium – Men and women between the ages of 18-50 need 1000 milligrams a day. This increases to 1200 milligrams when women turn 50 and when men turn 70.
  • Move more – Getting regular exercise, especially strength training, can help strengthen your bones and muscles.
  • Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Prevent falls by wearing low-heeled shoes and keeping floors free from hazards that may cause trips and falls. It might also help to install grab bars inside and outside your shower.

If you’re interested in learning more about osteoporosis or scheduling a DEXA scan, talk to your personal doctor. To find a personal doctor near you, talk to your health insurance provider.