When we think of osteoporosis, we might think of our grandmother’s hunched back or a frail elder with a broken hip. One of the dangers is that osteoporosis causes bones to break without the kind of trauma usually involved with a fracture. Fractures related to osteoporosis lead to an increased mortality risk for seniors but sometimes go undetected. It’s one reason the medical community calls osteoporosis “the silent killer.” Even adults in their 30s, 40s, and 50s should recognize the dangers of low bone density and develop plans to combat osteoporosis. Working with your primary care doctor, you can get proactive with nutrition and exercise.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a bone disease related to low bone density. Our healthy bones contain small holes called foramen. When our bones don’t get needed nutrients, the holes get larger, causing the bones to become more fragile. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or low bone mass. Osteoporosis can affect your vertebrae, leading to a hunched posture. It also makes bone breaks more likely, including hip and vertebral fractures, which can be deadly for seniors. Osteoporosis can limit mobility and lead to isolation and depression in older adults.
What Are the Symptoms of Osteoporosis?
Many adults lose bone mass without realizing it. According to NOF, over 30 million people have low bone mass, a precursor to osteoporosis. However, many patients don’t get an osteoporosis diagnosis until they break a bone. Warning signs include:
- Patients may notice they’re getting shorter– or their back bends forward.
- Back pain from a cracked vertebra is another red flag.
- Sex, age, family history, and medical history also come into play.
What Are the Risk Factors For Osteoporosis?
- Osteoporosis is more common in women than men, with white and Asian women at the highest risk.
- Poor nutrition, eating disorders, and weight loss can contribute to increased risk. Bone health suffers when your body doesn’t get essential vitamins and minerals.
- Some medications for other conditions contribute to reduced bone mass.
- Medical conditions and chronic illnesses can increase osteoporosis risk. Be aware of the risk if you have an autoimmune disorder, digestive disorder, cancer diagnosis, endocrine or hormonal conditions, neurological conditions, liver or kidney disease, or mental illness.
How Can I Prevent Osteoporosis?
Nutrition and hormone levels play a significant role in osteoporosis, and calcium deficiency is one of the primary causes. Your body needs calcium to build bone, so eating a healthy diet is essential. Hormone levels are another critical factor as we age. Low estrogen in women and low testosterone in men contribute to osteoporosis. Some preventive measures you can take to prevent osteoporosis include:
- Nutrition: a healthy diet rich in calcium can help prevent osteoporosis. Ensure your diet includes plenty of calcium and Vitamin D; take supplements if needed.
- Exercise: Studies show strength training can prevent bone density loss. Combine strength training exercises with weight-bearing activities like walking or running to build bone strength. You can also help prevent falls with balance exercises, including yoga and tai chi.
- Avoid smoking and tobacco products, and limit alcohol.
- If you have a chronic health condition, talk with your primary care provider about its impact on your nutrition and potential osteoporosis risk.
- Review your medications and prescriptions with your primary care doctor. Are there any changes she would recommend to improve bone health while keeping you healthy?
What Are The Best Treatments for Osteoporosis?
If you have low bone density but are at low risk for a break, your primary care doctor will usually start with non-medical interventions like diet, exercise, and supplements. Your doctor may recommend medication if you’re at higher risk for a fracture. Options include:
- Bisphosphonates help slow bone erosion to rebuild bone cells. These drugs strengthen your bones and reduce the risk of fracture. These drugs are available in oral and IV form and are generally the first choice for treatment.
- Your doctor may recommend hormone therapy for postmenopausal women. Estrogen therapy can improve bone density. However, hormone therapy has other health risks, including links to blood clots and breast cancer. Talk with your doctor about your family and personal health history and risk factors before you decide whether HRT is right for you.
- We can now prescribe powerful new bone-building medications for patients with severe osteoporosis. These drugs are taken by injection in your doctor’s office and are limited to use for one or two years.
How Can My Primary Care Doctor Help Me Prevent and Treat Osteoporosis?
If you’re at risk for osteoporosis, ask your primary care doctor about a DEXA scan for bone density, a painless screening procedure. Even if you’re relatively young, your doctor can help you take action to fight the “silent killer” with:
- Nutrition and exercise
- Medication management
- Managing chronic health conditions that can contribute to osteoporosis
- Supplement recommendations
At Norvinia Health, osteoporosis prevention fits in with our ongoing efforts to support patients in improving their diet and exercise for overall health, with an additional focus on calcium and bone strength. Dr. Ojha also specializes in helping patients with chronic conditions manage medications and nutritional needs. If you’re at high risk for osteoporosis or think you may have it, our office is an excellent resource for bone density screening, diagnosis, and treatment. It’s never too early to start thinking about bone health.