Osteoporosis is a progressive decrease in the density of bones that weakens them and makes them more likely to fracture. After about age 30, bones naturally begin to decrease in density. If the body isn't able to regulate this decrease, the bones become fragile. Osteoporosis is far more common among women than men. Today, access to information, identifiable risk factors and revolutionary advances in prevention, diagnosis and treatment have made osteoporosis a much more manageable disease.
Osteoporosis: Who is at Risk?
Most women are well aware of the risks of osteoporosis. But the disease does not discriminate. Men can also develop osteoporosis as they grow older. In fact, experts say one out of every five people who eventually acquires this debilitating bone disease is male.
Osteoporosis attacks bones, especially in the hips, wrists and back, riddling them with small holes. In their weakened state, bones fracture easily. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates the disease causes 80,000 hip fractures in men each year. Nearly one-third die within a year of their injury. Once thought to afflict only postmenopausal women, osteoporosis today affects more than 2 million men; another 3.5 million men are at risk of developing it. The disease has no symptoms, can strike at any age and has no cure.
Risk factors include:
Most Americans don't get enough calcium in their diets. It's essential for strong bones and proper heart function.
Taking prolonged doses of steroids for asthma or arthritis, anticoagulants, some cancer drugs and antacids made with aluminum increases the risk for osteoporosis.
Illnesses affecting the kidneys, lungs, stomach and intestines can lower testosterone levels and put men at greater risk.
Smoking, consuming excessive alcohol and not exercising increase the osteoporosis risk.
After women, Caucasian men have the highest risk of osteoporosis. Other factors include a family history of the disease, being small-boned, thin, and aging -- bone density naturally recedes with age.
Testing for Bone Density
At Fisher-Titus, osteoporosis can be detected by a pain-free bone mineral density test called a DEXA scan. This dual energy x-ray absorptiometry exam uses small amounts of x-ray to produce images of the spine, hip or even the whole body. Using computer technology, the amount of bone mineral, which relates to bone strength, can be measured. This information is used by physicians to diagnose and treat osteoporosis.
Call your doctor if you have sudden low back pain or are losing height. Early detection means more effective treatment.
Protect yourself with these recommendations:
Get 1,000 mg of calcium daily (1,500 mg if you're over 65) from low-fat dairy products, vegetables and enriched juices. Also, if you're not getting enough vitamin D from sunlight, take a daily supplement that provides 400 to 800 international units of vitamin D.
Suggested exercise to strengthen bones include walking, jogging, playing tennis and racquetball, climbing stairs and lifting weights. If you've been diagnosed with osteoporosis, get your doctor's approval before beginning.
Of the various medications used to slow or reverse osteoporosis in women, only alendronate is approved for men. Speak to your doctor about the therapy that is best for you.