Osteoporosis: Don’t Be an April Fool!

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • April 1 is a day beloved of practical jokesters everywhere. While you may be caught with salt in your coffee (or falling for an email saying pump prices have dropped to 99¢/gallon), there’s no need to be foolish about osteoporosis. Bone up on these five common misperceptions about bone health – and the real story behind each.

    Osteoporosis is an old lady’s disease.
    Don’t be fooled: osteoporosis can strike at almost any age. And while it’s most prevalent in women over the age of 65, children and teens can have osteoporosis, too, often in the form of idiopathic juvenile osteoporosis (IJO), but sometimes as a result of poor diet and excessive exercise.

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    And while 80% of osteoporosis sufferers are female, that leaves 20% of diagnosed cases of osteoporosis occurring in males: that’s 1 in 5.

    So guys, you’re not off the hook. You should be every bit as aware of bone health as women, especially as you get older; and certainly if you smoke, drink to excess, and/or take certain steroid drugs, all of which can increase your risk.

    Osteoporosis makes your bones hurt.
    Don’t be fooled: osteoporosis isn’t called “the silent thief” for nothing.

    Outward symptoms of early osteoporosis are nonexistent; even with advanced disease, a fracture is often the way a person learns he or she has osteoporosis. And that’s a tough lesson.

    In the absence of symptoms, it’s important to know and recognize your own personal risk of osteoporosis. Being female; being small-framed/slight; growing older, and a family history are all key risk factors.

    And, while subtle, there are certain physical signs to look for: a slightly stooped posture, for instance; or if your annual physical exam reveals that you’re slightly shorter than you were the year before.

    The best way to track bone health is through regular screening, which is recommended for women over age 65. A DEXA scan will give you and your doctor a baseline for your bones; and a schedule of repeat scans, based on your personal risk factors, will track their health over time.

    If I get osteoporosis, no worries; I can easily treat it with a simple pill.
    Don’t be fooled: Sally Field and Boniva may make osteoporosis treatment sound easy… but it isn’t.

    The chief class of drugs used to treat osteoporosis, bisphosphonates, often produce devastating side effects, including gastrointestinal issues so severe that some people are forced to quit treatment.

    Even in the absence of severe side effects, many people suffer from general nausea, heartburn, and diarrhea as the result of bisphosphonate use. And the schedule and method by which you take these drugs can impact your daily routine.

    Bottom line: Osteoporosis drugs are NOT easy to take. Better to do all you can to avoid the disease in the first place than to be forced to use osteoporosis drugs.

    Since I have a family history of osteoporosis, there’s just not much I can do to prevent it. 
    Don’t be fooled: There are lots of things you can do to lessen your risk of osteoporosis, even in the face of genetics. Here are three key things to consider:

  • •Exercise. Get moving! Exercise is key to health throughout our lives. The right kinds of exercise can strengthen your bones; and the stronger your bones, the less likely you are to be diagnosed with osteoporosis. For more information, check out our post on how exercise can help prevent osteoporosis.

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    •Diet: Sufficient levels of calcium and vitamin D throughout your life are key to building and maintaining bone health. Whether you rely on a healthy diet, or supplements (or both), make sure you know your desired intake – and be sure you get it.

    But there’s more to bone health than calcium and vitamin D. Many foods contain an array of vitamins and minerals that, together, are a real boon to your bones. Other foods can actually harm bones. Want more information? Read Five Foods That Help Prevent Osteoporosis – and Five That Don’t.

    •Lifestyle: What are two things you can do right now to lessen your risk of osteoporosis?

    If you smoke, quit. I know, much, much easier said than done. But you know smoking is bad for you; increased risk of osteoporosis is yet another reason to ditch the tobacco. For more, please read our post Smoking: Why You Should Quit.

    And how about alcohol? Binge drinking is a chief cause of osteoporosis in young people. Alcohol abuse is also a common osteoporosis risk factor for men. Like smoking, irresponsible drinking is the root of many evils – including unhealthy bones.

    Osteoporosis is a pain to deal with, sure, but it’s not fatal...
    Don’t be fooled: while osteoporosis in and of itself won’t kill you, its side effects might.

    One in 3 women (and 1 in 6 men) who reach their 90th birthday will suffer an osteoporosis-related hip fracture at some point. And 20% of people who fracture their hip will die within a year of the injury. A full 75% will never recover fully from that fracture, spending the rest of their lives either bedridden, or severely hobbled.

    Here’s a fact that might surprise you: more older women die as the result of a hip fracture than of breast cancer.

    Osteoporosis isn’t fatal. But it can lead to death. Just one more reason to understand this under-recognized disease, and to work on personal prevention.

    National Osteoporosis Foundation NOF Fast Facts (http://www.nof.org/)

Published On: March 31, 2012