With over 40 million Americans at increased risk for osteoporosis (which means “porous bones”), it’s good to know that it is a preventable and treatable bone disease. Learn the risk factors for osteoporosis, and what you can do to keep your bones strong and healthy.
WHAT CAUSES OSTEOPOROSIS?
The strength of your bones depends on both their mass and density. Bone health and density depend in part on the amount of calcium, phosphorous and other minerals they have. When your bones contain less minerals, their strength decreases and they lose their internal supporting structure, causing low bone density.
Bone tissue is continuously changing; new healthy bone is made and old bone is broken down in a process called remodeling, or bone turnover. A full cycle of bone growth and remodeling takes two to three months. When you are young, your body makes new bone faster than it breaks down old bone, thus increasing bone mass. You reach your peak bone mass in your mid-30s. Thereafter, you lose slightly more than you gain. Not getting enough vitamin D and calcium can accelerate the process. At menopause, when estrogen levels drop, bone loss in women increases to approximately 1 to 3 percent per year. Bone loss in men accelerates around age 65, and it’s lost at the same rate as women. Your risk of developing osteoporosis depends on how much bone mass you attained between ages 25 and 35 and how rapidly you lose it later.
Three factors that are essential for keeping your bones healthy throughout your life include:
- Regular exercise
- Adequate amounts of dietary calcium
- Adequate amounts of vitamin D, which is essential for calcium absorption
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
According to Dr. Sonal Chaudhry of NYU Langone Health, “Osteoporosis in and of itself does not cause any symptoms unless you unfortunately fracture [a bone].” Osteoporosis usually develops over many years and without symptoms. The first signs of it commonly occur during the middle and older adult years and include:
- Getting shorter in height
- Developing a curved upper back
- Continuing back pain
- Fracturing of the bones (the bones that are most commonly broken are the small bones in the spine, hip and wrist)
Dr Chaudry continues, “So the only way to know if you have osteoporosis is by doing a bone density test. Or if you’ve had a fragility fracture in the past, that by definition means that you do have osteoporosis.
WHO IS AT RISK OF OSTEOPOROSIS
In the absence of individual risk factors, all women over the age of 65 and men over the age of 70 should have screening bone density test. If you are a menopausal woman, 50-65 years of age, and have risk factors, it is also appropriate to be screened for osteoporosis.
People are considered highest risk are:
- Women who have gone through early menopause
- Women who have a history of eating disorders
- Women with a history of skipped menstrual cycles
- Family history of osteoporosis
- Diagnosis of celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease
If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, you will be required to make sure your diet contains sufficient calcium and vitamin D, as well as exercise regularly and take medication to reduce bone loss and increase bone thickness.
The process of bone thinning is a natural part of aging and cannot be completely stopped. However, low bone mass can be reduced or delayed through the practice of healthy lifestyle habits. Studies show that exercising during the preteen and teen years increases bone health and greatly reduces the risk of osteoporosis in adulthood.
For more information, visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) at www.nof.org.
Talk to your doctor about testing your bone mineral density if you feel like your at higher risk. If you have any questions about your TSHBP coverage or need assistance locating a provider, please contact us to speak to a representative.