Osteoporosis Awareness: Time For Some Shock Treatment?

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Till my fellow expert patient Pam Flores notified you that May is Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month, I’ll bet you didn’t know it, did you? That’s OK; not many people do. Although this disease has been dubbed “the silent killer” due to its lack of symptoms, it might also merit that name due to its absence in the public’s consciousness.

    With that in mind, I’m dedicating myself this month to raising osteoporosis awareness among my friends and work colleagues. I’m a 50-something woman working with a lot of 30- to 50-something women, and casual conversation leads me to believe that most of them know little and care less about their risk for osteoporosis.

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    So, what’s the best way to raise awareness? The NOF (National Osteoporosis Foundation) is sponsoring “A Gift from Mothers to Daughters” as their May theme, a program designed “to help break the cycle of generations of women suffering from this disease.” You can go to the NOF’s Web site and download PDFs and other materials. Take a look; they have some nice posters and postcards.

    Me? I’m more into scare tactics. I’ve found them to be effective, efficient, and most of all, memorable. As a breast cancer survivor, I’ve employed “the shock factor” often. “You skipped your mammogram? What are you, crazy? Want to get cancer? Get your breast chopped off? Lose your hair? Leave your kids motherless? Sure, skipping that mammogram because you were too busy makes a LOT of sense…” You wouldn’t believe how much chagrin and discomfort I can induce—all for a good cause.

    So I’m thinking I’ll pursue the same kind of tactics for osteoporosis. “What? You don’t know how much calcium you consume every day? You don’t take a vitamin D supplement? Are you CRAZY?! Want to break your hip and die within a year? Never see your grandchildren? Develop a widow’s hump and be forced to walk around all bent over like your great-grandmother? Bury your head in the sand about the dangers of osteoporosis, you’ll get there!”

    Are you an in-your-face type person? I’m not. But for a good cause, I can force it. And, since May is osteoporosis awareness month, I’m going for it, big time. Here’s some of my ammunition: feel free to use it on YOUR friends.

    •10 million Americans currently suffer from osteoporosis. About 34 million more are at high risk. Those two statistics together translate to 55% of Americans over age 50—the majority—being impacted by osteoporosis. Are you in that majority, and you don’t know it?

    •80% of those affected by osteoporosis are women. So, Girlfriend, that means your husband catches a break; but you’re at even greater risk than you thought.

    •So, you’ve never had a DEXA scan? How do you know you don’t have osteoporosis right now? You can’t feel it; there are no symptoms, until you break a bone: your hip, your wrist, ribs, your back. Sometimes simply by sneezing. Sometimes, even, spontaneously.

    •About 1 in 2 women age 50 or older will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their remaining lifetime. Hmmm, which side of that fence will YOU fall on (fall being the operative word)?

  • •A vertebral (spinal) fracture can be painful, or can occur with no pain at all. It can cause loss of height; deformities (the widow’s hump); and stooped posture. Not a pretty picture.

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    • It’s predicted 33% of Boomer women will break a hip. Yeah, so? This is right from the NOF Web site: “A woman's risk of hip fracture is equal to her combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer. At six months after a hip fracture, only 15 percent of hip fracture patients can walk across a room unaided. An average of 24 percent of hip fracture patients aged 50 and over die in the year following their fracture.” You don’t have to do the math to get the picture: you DO NOT want to break your hip.

    •Did you think menopause was all about hot flashes and mood swings? Think again. The typical woman will lose 20% of her bone mass in the 5 to 7 years following menopause. Now THAT’S significant.

    •So, you think you don’t have any risk factors for osteoporosis? Wrong. The top risk factor is being female. Check. Number-two is getting older. Check again. Others include a family history (mother or grandmother with a broken hip); being small or thin; not exercising enough; smoking; and excessive drinking. Now that you know what they are, count up your risk factors. Surprising, huh?

    Finally, here are a couple to use on your friends’ high-school daughters; it’s estimated 90% of teenage girls don’t get enough calcium in their diets.

    •A woman acquires about 90% of her bone mass by the time she’s 18. After the age of 35, she starts losing bone mass. The better bones you have at age 18, the better they’ll be at age 58. Here’s your choice: Get your calcium now, or break your back later.

    •Teenagers can get full-blown osteoporosis. In fact, some of the seemingly fittest teenage girls are at highest risk, due to excessive dieting and prolonged hard exercise. Give yourself a break, girl. If you’re going to work out hard, you HAVE to get enough calcium and vitamin D. If you can’t or won’t eat dairy, take supplements—please!

    That’s all for now. I think I’ll go practice up—on my husband. Bet he doesn’t know the 1-year mortality rate for a hip fracture is nearly twice as high for men as for women…

Published On: May 08, 2009