Take Charge of Your Bone Health

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April 16, 2014


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It’s true that osteoporosis is quite common – about 10 million people in the U.S. and more than 200 million people worldwide have the disease, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. It’s not true, however, that the disease is a natural part of aging that you cannot avoid. Yes, aging is inevitable. And it’s likely that you will lose bone mass as you get older, but that does not mean you are destined to get osteoporosis.

There are other factors besides aging that put you at risk for the disease. The good news is there are many actions you can take to protect yourself and your bones. The key is to start early.

The more you know about osteoporosis and osteopenia – bone density that is lower than normal peak density but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis – the more you can do to prevent these diseases or treat them if you’ve already been diagnosed.

What is osteoporosis?

“Osteoporosis is a chronic condition characterized by reduced bone strength, low bone mass and a higher risk of bone fracture, especially in the hip, spine and wrist,” said Anaisys Ballesteros, D.O., a Baptist Health Medical Group family medicine doctor. “Bone fractures associated with osteoporosis can result in lasting disabilities.”

Who is at risk?

Women are at highest risk for osteoporosis – especially Caucasian, Asian and Hispanic women who are past menopause, says Dr. Ballesteros. Although the disease is five times more common in women, 20 to 25 percent of men will suffer a bone fracture because of osteoporosis or osteopenia during their lives. Most men develop the disease after age 65.

“Other risk factors include a history of fractures as an adult, a family history of osteoporosis or fractures, low body weight, smoking, low intake of calcium or vitamin D, use of alcohol, lack of exercise, estrogen deficiency and use of certain medications,” she added.

How can I reduce my risk?

Dr. Ballesteros offers these tips:

Eat healthy. Smart eating habits can help you get the vitamins and minerals that help fight bone loss. Vitamin D and calcium are crucial for your bones. You can get calcium from dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt. Foods rich in vitamin D include salmon, tuna and shrimp, egg yolks, beef liver and mushrooms. Sunlight also is a good source of vitamin D.

Exercise regularly. Establishing good exercise habits at any age will help you reduce your risk of osteoporosis. Try to incorporate weight-bearing exercise in your weekly routine. Tennis, golf, yoga, dancing, brisk walking or hiking and strength training are good options.

Don’t smoke. Smoking is bad for your body, and that includes your bones. Studies have shown a strong link between smoking and a decrease in bone density.

Limit alcohol. Alcohol slows the formation of new bone tissue. Women should have no more than one drink a day, and men should limit their daily intake to two drinks.

Consider your medications. Talk to your doctor about the medications you are taking, because there are many that can hurt your bones. These include some steroids, anti-seizure medications, cholesterol-lowering drugs, blood thinners, weight-loss drugs and medications to treat prostate cancer and acid reflux.

Maintain a healthy weight. Being too thin raises your chance of developing osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor about your ideal weight.

Get a bone density test. “Your osteoporosis risk can be assessed with a simple and painless bone density test that measures the amount of mineral, usually calcium, in a bone,” Dr. Ballesteros said.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends this test for:

• Women age 65 and older
• Younger women with risk factors for osteoporosis
• Men age 70 and older
• Men age 50-69 with risk factors for osteoporosis

What are the symptoms?
The silent nature of osteoporosis is a good reason to talk to your doctor about your risk factors and whether you would benefit from a bone density test. There typically are no symptoms in the early stages of bone loss. But once bones have been weakened by osteoporosis, you may have symptoms like hunched posture, loss of height or a bone fracture. Dr. Ballesteros suggests the best way to treat brittle bones is through a combination of healthy eating, exercise and medications designed to treat osteoporosis, if necessary.

How can I be proactive?
Don’t wait until you have symptoms or break a bone to do something about bone loss. Baptist Medical Plazas in Coral Springs, Davie and Pembroke Pines are conducting free osteoporosis heel scans through April 30. To make a same-day appointment, call 954-837-1052. For more information, visit BaptistHealth.net/OsteoScreening.

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