What every woman needs to know about osteoporosis
Most of us take our bones for granted until we break one or are diagnosed with a bone disease. As we get older, we begin to lose more bone than we build. Tiny holes within bones become bigger, and the solid outer layer becomes thinner. If your bone density decreases too much, you will, by definition, be diagnosed with osteoporosis. But just how common is osteoporosis?
In the United States, more than 10 million people over the age of 50 have this condition, and another 34 million have been diagnosed with osteopenia, a condition that is often a precursor to osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a silent disease that can lead to serious fractures, as well as back pain, loss of height and stooped posture. The disease is often not diagnosed until after a fracture has occurred. Although osteoporosis can cause fractures in nearly any bone, they commonly happen in the wrist, spine and hip. And, the consequences of osteoporosis-related fractures can be substantial, ranging from diminished quality of life and dependence on pain medication to increased depression and even permanent incapacitation.
While impacting both men and women, osteoporosis occurs more frequently in women because they tend to have smaller, thinner bones. As well, estrogen, that helps make and rebuild bone in women, drops significantly after menopause which can lead to bone loss. This is why osteoporosis and bone fractures are more common in older women.
However, there are many ways to lower the risk of developing osteoporosis, as well as medications that help fight bone loss. It is important for women to get proactively screened for the disease. Dual energy x-ray absorptiometry, commonly referred to as a DEXA scan, is the only test that can diagnose osteoporosis before a broken bone occurs. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends DEXA scans for women who are 65 or older, are over 50 and have broken a bone and for women who are menopausal or postmenopausal with certain risk factors
The results of bone density testing can enable a woman’s doctor to make recommendations on how to reduce the chance of breaking a bone. Osteoporosis treatment often involves medication along with lifestyle changes. Bisphosphonates are the most common medications prescribed for osteoporosis. Longterm bisphosphonate therapy has been linked to a very rare side effect, in which the upper thighbone cracks and may break.
“Fears about these medications has resulted in patients not being able to take advantage of the many benefits they offer,” said Stuart Weinerman, MD, Assistant Professor at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell and Associate Chief, Division of Endocrinology, Department of Medicine at Northwell Health. “Diet, exercise and supplements are not enough to protect someone with low bone density.”
Medication, along with healthy lifestyle practices, remain the best bet in reducing the chance of a fracture in those identified as having low bone density. These practices include exercise, balanced nutrition, quitting smoking and drinking alcohol in moderation.
For more information about osteoporosis prevention and treatment, call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-5494 or visit www.northwell.edu/kiwh.
—Submitted by The Katz
Institute for Women’s Health