Some risk factors associated with osteoporosis are out of your control. But you’re in luck, because some can be lessened by following simple tips. Below, Orthopedic Nursing Manager Katie McCarthy discusses the signs, symptoms and preventive measures.
By Katie McCarthy, BSN, RN, ONC, Orthopedic Nursing Manager, Renown Health
Osteoporosis is often called the silent disease, because it develops gradually for years with no clear signs or symptoms. And while some bone loss is expected as we age, osteoporosis is not a normal part of aging. So it’s important to start thinking about your bone health early.
Bone is not just a lifeless scaffold for the body. It is living tissue that regenerates continually. Once we reach peak bone mass around age 25, we begin losing more bone than we produce, increasing the risk of developing osteoporosis — which literally means porous bone and points to a loss in bone density.
In severe cases, normal everyday activities or movements, like hugging, can cause a fracture. After the first fracture you’re at higher risk for more, which can lead to a life of chronic pain and immobility. Bone fractures in the spine or hip are the most serious. Hip fractures can result in disability and even death — especially in older adults. Spinal fractures can even occur without falling. The vertebrae weaken to the point that they simply crumple, which can result in back pain, lost height and a hunched-forward posture.
Osteoporosis: Uncontrollable Risk Factors
Women are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis than men, and white and Asian women are at higher risk than black and Hispanic women. Other uncontrollable risk factors include:
- a family history of osteoporosis;
- certain genetic conditions;
- medications and medical treatments;
- eating disorders;
- a low body weight and small, thin frame;
- menopause: In fact, the lack of estrogen produced during menopause is largely responsible for a woman’s increased risk.
Poor diet, tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, lack of exercise and an unhealthy weight also contribute to bone loss. Fortunately, those risk factors are in your control.
Without symptoms, you can’t know if you’ve developed osteoporosis unless you get a bone density test or suffer a fracture. If you fall into a high-risk group, are over age 50 or have any concerns about your bone health, consult your doctor and find out if you need to be evaluated. Additionally, if either of your parents sustained hip fractures, you experienced early menopause or took corticosteroids for several months — a steroid often prescribed to relieve inflammation and arthritis — you’ll want to talk to your doctor about your bone health.
If you test positive, your doctor will devise a treatment plan to match your needs, which will include lifestyle changes surrounding diet and exercise to build and strengthen weak bones. Medication to slow bone breakdown and build new bone may be prescribed, depending on the severity of your bone loss. If you’ve sustained a spinal fracture that is causing severe pain, deformity or is not responding to non-surgical treatment, your doctor may recommend surgery.
Reduce Your Risk of Osteoporosis
You can strengthen your bones now to prevent osteoporosis from starting. Here are some tips:
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in caffeine, sodium and protein.
- Avoid soda, and talk to your doctor to make sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D.
- Don’t smoke — it directly correlates with a decrease in bone mass. Smokers also take longer to heal from a fracture.
- Limit alcohol to two to three beverages per day. It interferes with the production of vitamins needed to absorb calcium and the hormones that help protect bones.
- Exercise three to four times each week — it’s key to healthy bones. Weight-bearing exercises like jogging, hiking and especially weight lifting build bone mass and density.
There are aspects of the aging process we can’t control, but we can do something about bone loss and osteoporosis. Find out your risk, and show your bones a little TLC — you’re going to need them.
This story was also published in the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Health Source on April 24, 2016.