Bone Loss: Banishing Fear

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Anytime we unexpectedly stray from the straight and narrow path of good health, we’re bound to experience some anxiety. A simple mental exercise can help you move beyond stress to positive action.


    Here you are, a perfectly healthy woman – or so you thought – suddenly handed a diagnosis of osteopenia. 


    What?! I exercise, don’t smoke, eat healthy… how can this be? 


    Bone loss isn’t limited to old women. It can occur at any age – even infancy. Granted, you’re much more likely to experience bone loss after the age of 30; and the pace of loss accelerates steeply after menopause, once the production of estrogen (with its positive effect on bones) falters.

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    Still, for most women, the decline in bone health is both gradual, and inevitable. It’s a part of growing old – and not much more dangerous than gray hair or crow’s feet.


    For some, however, a baseline DEXA scan may reveal T-scores that have dropped into the zone signaling osteopenia: pre-osteoporosis. 


    There’s controversy among physicians and researchers over whether osteopenia should even be labeled a condition; many now think that certain women experience a greater degree of bone loss than “normal;” in fact, those “low” T-scores are normal for them, and not dangerous.


    Still, none of us likes to hear our body parts are deteriorating, right? It reminds us of our eventual mortality – and that’s scary. 


    What do you do if you’ve been told you have osteopenia?


    First, don’t panic. It’s eminently treatable. Lifestyle changes, an improved diet and exercise regimen, and drugs (as a last resort) can all help slow or even halt bone loss in many women. Chances are excellent a diagnosis of osteopenia will never lead to osteoporosis, with its severe risk of bone fracture.


    Still, you find your mind going there, don’t you? “What if…” The yogurt smoothies, weight-lifting, and even Boniva don’t work? What if I end up crippled and immobilized – at age 55?


    Absolutely, the possibility exists. And small as it is, you’re going to worry about it – just a little, or maybe a lot.


    The trick is to readjust your attitude; to believe that yes, you’ll be among the significant majority of women who never experience an osteoporotic fracture. 


    So how do you manage that?


    Go down the “and then what” path. Here’s how it works:


    You’re going to have a mental conversation, in which you play two roles: your anxious self, and your practical self. Your anxious self starts by voicing a fear:


    “I’m afraid my bones are getting thin.”


    Your practical self responds, “And then what?”


    Anxious: “I might get osteoporosis.”


    Practical: “And then what?”


    Anxious: “I’ll have to get treatment.”


    Practical: “And then what?”


    See where this is going? Every stress-laden fear we experience represents a practical situation, one with a variety of possible outcomes. Our stress comes from fixating on the very worst outcome, then worrying about it.


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    By forcing yourself to trace the actual path your key stressor might follow, you become aware that chances are good you simply won’t experience all the bad stuff you’re imagining.


    Let’s follow the example above a bit further; you can mentally fill in the “and then whats.”


    I’ll have to get osteoporosis treatment [most women with osteopenia never develop osteoporosis]. I’ll have to take drugs [many women with osteopenia don’t take drugs]. I might get sick from the drugs [the majority of women successfully handle bisphosphonates]. I’ll have to get an injection [many women do, and tolerate it very well]. The injection might not work [most women respond favorably to the injection]. My bone loss might continue [this is true for a minority of women]. I might develop osteoporosis [some women do]. I might become crippled [a small percentage develop severe, crippling osteoporosis]. I might become bedridden [some do]. I might die.


    There – you might die. Isn’t that what’s behind most of our health fears? Yet look what a long and, frankly, unlikely chain of events would have to occur to bring you to the brink of death from osteoporosis.


    When you shine light on your fear, allowing your practical self to work in tandem with your anxious self, you find that it’s just that: fear, not reality. 


    And if you can disarm that fear – even a little – you’ll find your stress level quickly abates, as well.




Published On: March 31, 2013