Bone Up on Osteoporosis

Understand your risk factors, when to get screened and ways to protect your bone health.

Osteoporosis, which means “porous bone,” is a silent disease that can have devastating effects. With this disease, bone tissue and mass deteriorate, which leads to frail bones and a higher risk for serious fractures.

“The kicker,” says Dr. Mary Wemple, a rheumatologist at PacMed, “is that this bone-loss condition occurs without symptoms. That’s why screening is so critical.” Because bones weaken gradually over time, people may not know that they have osteoporosis until a sudden strain, bump, or fall causes a fracture.

In the U.S. today, 10 million people already have osteoporosis. Although osteoporosis cannot be cured, it can be effectively treated. Most important, it can be prevented.

Who Is at Risk?

Older women are particularly susceptible. Risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Being female
  • Going through menopause
  • Male or female—being slim and less than 130 pounds
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Drinking excess alcohol (more than three glasses daily)
  • Having a first-degree relative with osteoporosis
  • Age—the older you are, the greater your risk

Certain health conditions, medications and ethnicities can also play a factor.

Who Should Get Screened?

Screening for osteoporosis involves a bone density scan. This scan is a quick, painless procedure that uses an enhanced, low-radiation form of X-ray technology called DXA (pronounced “dexa”).

  • Women: If you are over age 65, screening is highly recommended. If you are younger than 65 but have risk factors, you may benefit from screening.
  • Men: If you are over age 70, you should discuss bone density screening with your primary care doctor. If you are younger than 70 but have risk factors, you may benefit from screening.

What Preventive Steps Can I Take?

Two of the most important steps are to get the daily recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D, and to regularly engage in weight-bearing, muscle-strengthening exercise. Talk with your primary care doctor for guidance, and read the related articles in this month’s Healthy Tips on nutrition and exercise suggestions for good bone health.

The message Dr. Shailaja Reddy drives home with her patients is one of awareness and prevention. “Get your calcium and exercise, even if you’re in your forties,” she recommends. “If you do this consistently from a younger age it will help you down the road.” Dr. Reddy practices internal medicine at PacMed.

Already diagnosed with osteoporosis? Learn more about the Rheumatology team at PacMed.