Those bones you had a decade ago? They aren’t there anymore! In fact, your bone matter might have a shorter lifespan than the carpet in your living room! But don’t be alarmed… all this is completely normal. Through a process known as “remodeling,” the body constantly removes and rebuilds bone material in the body. After a period of approximately ten years, the bone tissue in your body has been completely replaced with new bone…
…unless you have osteoporosis.
What Is Osteoporosis?
In patients with osteoporosis, the remodeling process can’t keep up. Bone matter is absorbed by the body faster than new bone matter is produced. This means that bones lose mass over time, becoming weak, brittle and prone to fracturing.
Many people have osteoporosis, but few are aware that they have this disease until they experience a fracture. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Nearly one in four women age 65 or older have osteoporosis of the femur, neck, or lumbar spine.
Does Osteoporosis Cause Symptoms?
In the early stages, symptoms are rarely seen. That’s just one reason why getting screened in an osteoporosis risk assessment is so important. (More on that in a moment.) Once bones have become affected by osteoporosis, the following symptoms may be observed:
- Gradual loss of height
- Stooped posture
- Back pain (may be caused by a collapsed vertebra or fracture)
- Bone fracture that occurs with minimal stress
Keep in mind, not all individuals with osteoporosis will experience noticeable symptoms.
Osteoporosis Risk Factors
Knowing the osteoporosis risk factors may empower you to work with your doctor at St. Thomas Medical Group to stop this disease before it occurs. There are some risk factors you can’t control. Let’s look at those first:
- Being female
- Being over the age of 50
- Having a family history of the disease
- Having experienced broken bones or loss in height
- Being thin or having a small frame
The good news is, there are some risk factors you can control:
- If overweight, lose weight.
- Reduce alcohol use to one drink per day (women) or two drinks per day (men) max.
- Eat sufficient fruits, vegetables, vitamin D, and calcium.
- Exercise regularly.
- Don’t over consume sodium, protein or caffeine.
- If you smoke, talk with your doctor about developing a cessation plan now.
Who Is At the Greatest Risk for Osteoporosis?
Historically, women over the age of 50 have been viewed as the highest risk group for osteoporosis. However, a recent report published in June 2019 notes that osteopenia is on the rise among middle-aged women and men. (Osteopenia may be best understood as the “in-between” state of having healthy bones v. having bones at risk for fracture. It’s sometimes called “pre-osteoporosis.”)
A clinician involved with the report astutely noted that certain risk factors for poor bone health are indiscriminate, affecting patients across lines of age, race and sex. These risk factors include excessive alcohol use, tobacco use, lack of weight-bearing exercise, low exposure to sunlight and vitamin D, poor nutrition and prolonged use of steroids and certain other medications.
Osteoporosis Risk Assessment & DEXA Scans
If you’re concerned that you may be at an increased risk for this bone disease, talk to your doctor about having an osteoporosis risk assessment. During an assessment, your physician may ask about your lifestyle, as well as personal medical and family histories.
A DEXA scan may also be ordered at this time. DEXA, which stands for “dual energy x-ray absorptiometry,” is a completely painless and non-invasive procedure in which two different x-ray beams are used to scan the bones; the difference between these beams’ findings may inform your clinician about possible bone loss.
Help for preventing bone loss is possible… but it’s important that you take action early. Get help now!