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Arrest a Bone Thief

By Sonia Bajaj, M.D.

During your entire lifetime, new bone is being made and old bone is being broken down.  Until about the age of 30, your body makes new bone faster than old bone is broken down, and bone mass increases.  Following that point, you lose slightly more bone than you make.  After the age of 50, one in two women and one in four men will suffer a bone fracture due to osteoporosis, a disease marked by fragile, brittle bones.

Maintaining a healthy bone mass is a significant health concern as we age, because osteoporosis causes no symptoms or pain until bones begin to break.  For those with osteoporosis, a fall or even a cough or sneeze can cause a fracture. 

Hip and spine fractures are special concerns.  A hip fracture almost always requires hospitalization and major surgery.  It impairs a person’s ability to walk unassisted and may cause prolonged or permanent disability.  Spinal or vertebral fractures cause severe back pain and loss of height.

If bone loss is detected early, osteoporosis can be prevented.  Your physician can assess your risk of osteoporosis and determine if you need a bone mass measurement test. 

Risk Factors and Prevention of Osteoporosis

Some risk factors for osteoporosis are beyond your control.
• Female
• Over 50 years old
• White or Asian
• Family history of osteoporosis
• Small frame size
• Excessive thyroid hormone
• Medical conditions and procedures that affect bone health, including digestive disorders and weight-loss surgery

Other risk factors are within your control.
• Low calcium intake
• Tobacco use
• Eating disorders
• Sedentary lifestyle
• Excessive alcohol consumption
• Corticosteroid medications, often prescribed for asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
• Other medications

Bone health begins in childhood, because adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D and regular exercise are essential to attaining maximum bone mass.  But a diet rich in calcium and Vitamin D and weight-bearing exercise is beneficial for bones at any age, even if you already have low bone mass. 

Excellent sources of calcium include dairy products, almonds, broccoli, spinach, canned salmon with the bones, sardines, and soy products.  Your body makes Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, and Vitamin D can also be found in oily fish, egg yolks, and fortified breakfast cereal and dairy products.  You may want to consider supplements if you don’t consume adequate amounts of calcium and Vitamin D.

Exercise, especially weight-bearing exercise such as walking, jogging, stair climbing, and jump roping, improves bone health. 

Osteoporosis Testing and Treatment

If you and your family doctor determine that you are at risk for osteoporosis, a bone density test will reliably predict your risk of future fracture.  This quick, painless radiology test will measure the bone density of your hip, spine and wrist, the areas most likely to be affected by osteoporosis.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation (www.nof.org) recommends a bone density test for:

• Anyone older than age 50 with a history of a broken bone
• Postmenopausal women or men between 50 and 70 with at least one risk factor for osteoporosis
• Women older than 65 or men older than 70, regardless of risk factors
• Women who experienced early menopause
• Postmenopausal women who have recently stopped taking hormone therapy
• Anyone taking medications associated with osteoporosis

For those who meet these guidelines, testing is usually covered by Medicare and most insurance plans.

To treat osteoporosis, your doctor may prescribe one of several medications to help slow bone loss and maintain bone mass.  Physical therapy may be recommended to build bone strength, to reduce the risk of falls, and to improve posture, balance and strength.

No matter what your age, it’s important to be aware and take action to arrest this bone thief.  Ask your physician if you are at risk for osteoporosis. 

During National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month this May, Dr. Sonia Bajaj encourages readers to take action for bone health.  A board-certified rheumatologist, she  provides treatment for conditions including arthritis, osteoporosis, lupus, vasculitis, and gout at her office in Suite 215 of the medical office buildings at Huguley Memorial Medical Center.  For appointments or more information, she may be reached at 817-293-9631.