May is National Osteoporosis Awareness Month. Why is that so important to anyone who has multiple sclerosis (MS)? Osteoporosis is common in older people, but Robert Herndon, an MS specialist, says although Osteoporosis is a common disease, it is "more common and more serious in those with multiple sclerosis."MSers often don't think about osteoporosis and don't realize they are at risk. Bone and dental health is important, and a chronic condition like MS makes it even more crucial to our health, our daily lives, and our overall quality of life.I have MS and for me this story is personal.
Osteoporosis does not discriminate. It targets little old ladies, but also post-menopausal and over-40 women. Also, men 60 and over and especially anyone with a chronic disease. When MS is a factor, bone density loss begins much younger.MS has many symptoms and almost no two people have the same ones. Perhaps bone problems should be included toward the top of the list of symptoms. Let me emphasize: everyone with MS, both men and women, younger as well as older, should have their bone density checked.The bad thing is that many symptoms are not noticed as osteoporosis for years, even when there is a fracture. The pain may be attributed to MS. Vertebrae fractures may cause severe pain that radiates out and causes severe back pain, which in turn causes foot pain. Simply walking or taking a step off a curb can cause a stress fracture and that means pain. All of these pains are common in MS.
I wrote a post on my blog, Down the MS Path, called MSers at Risk. It was about Doctors Bowling and House. They wrote an article that says people with MS are at increased risk of osteoporosis and should know that health care professionals often overlook it. You should ask to be tested.The article reminds us it is vital to be aware of the possibility of osteoporosis with MS. It is important to identify osteoporosis. Bone density loss can be corrected, but even the best doctors can miss the subtle hints. Don't just wonder if you need a bone density test, ask your doctor. It is important!
Can it happen to you? Risk of MSers also contracting osteoporosis is greater than the general population. Why? MS often reduces the opportunity for exercise. We exercise less, and that includes walking. Many people have balance problems, awkward gaits, or must rely on wheelchairs.
Other preventive measures include vitamin D and calcium. Smoking is an independent risk factor because it breaks down exogenous estrogen. Chronic drinking in excess also increases the risk significantly. Some studies show soft drinks may contribute to low bone density.
Osteoporosis can cause pain in many areas of the body, especially joints such as wrist, hip and ankle. When there is a fracture, even a minor one, it can lead to further problems.
Even a trivial fracture can cause a hip fracture. Hip fractures can be treated, but sometimes they heal slowly or poorly because they are bones with low density. Once a fracture affects a single vertebrae in the spine, the pressure starts a domino pattern where there is another, then another and the spine is no longer strong enough to hold the back straight.
My first fracture — that I knew about — happened when I was being placed in the car. My leg twisted just a bit, as MSers' legs tend to do, and we heard a POP. That was the only indication that the pain in my leg was a bone trauma and it was a fracture. It still hurts after five years.
Just in case you are wondering, here is a short questionnaire that tells you whether or not you are a likely candidate for osteoporosis. It is only a short questionnaire. Give it a try.
Notes and Links:
National Osteoporosis Foundation
Down the MS Path post MSers at Risk
Garry offers - Prevalence of Osteoporosis
From Down the MS Path - Are My Bones Going to Break?