What is osteoporosis? How can I tell if I have osteoporosis and what can I do to prevent osteoporosis?

Bone health is important — here’s what you need to know about keeping bones healthy

When was the last time you thought about your bone health or wondered, “Do I have osteoporosis?” Most of us need strong bones to keep up with our everyday activities, and we don’t ask, “Are my bones healthy?” until it’s too late. This is osteoporosis awareness month, so let’s dive in to all things bone health-related.

Osteoporosis: The silent thief

Osteoporosis (also known as brittle bone disease) makes bones brittle and weak. The issue is that osteoporosis often has no symptoms and is discovered only after a quick twist or sudden fall results in broken bones or severe pain.

Typically, our bones regenerate, so new bone cells replace the old. With osteoporosis, you can either lose bone mass too quickly or not rebuild bone mass fast enough to keep up with what is lost — sometimes both. All of this can happen without the person experiencing osteoporosis ever feeling a thing. In fact, the U.S. surgeon general has identified osteoporosis as a major public health issue, because many people are not diagnosed with osteoporosis until they’ve had their first fracture.

“It’s important to know if you are at risk for osteoporosis or other bone diseases,” said Robin G. Curry, M.D., orthopedic sports medicine physician with Norton Orthopedic Institute. “If we can identify and care for people who might be at risk before they fall or break a bone, we can make a difference in staving off the effects of osteoporosis.”

Osteoporosis facts

  • Approximately half of women and 1 in 4 men over age 50 will break a bone from osteoporosis. 
  • A women’s risk of breaking a hip is equal to her combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer. 
  • Men ages 50 and older are more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than they are to get prostate cancer. 
  • One in 4 women and 1 in 3 men who have a hip fracture will die within a year of the fracture. 
  • Approximately 54 million people in the U.S. have osteoporosis.

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Am I at risk for osteoporosis?

  • Age: Risk increases with age. 
  • Gender: Osteoporosis affects more women than men. 
  • Family history: If one of your parents had osteoporosis, you’re more likely to get it. 
  • Menopause: Estrogen helps maintain bone mass. When estrogen levels drop at menopause, bones may be at risk. 
  • Smoking: Tobacco is toxic to your bones. If you smoke, get help to stop.

Can I prevent osteoporosis?

There is no cure for osteoporosis, but there are things you can do to lower your risk and potentially keep the symptoms of osteoporosis at bay.

  • Get enough calcium. The Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation (BHOF) recommends 1,200 milligrams (in divided doses) daily. There are about 300 milligrams in 1 cup of milk. 
  • Get adequate vitamin D. It’s needed to absorb calcium from the digestive system into the bloodstream. The BHOF recommends 800 to 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day. Your body will produce enough vitamin D from about 10 minutes in sunshine. Vitamin D is also available as a dietary supplement. 
  • Exercise. This is one of the best ways to preserve bone density. Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, dancing and using a stationary bike, are great ways to build and maintain bone mass. Exercise most days of the week. 
  • Prevent falls. Wear shoes with good traction. Be careful stepping up or down on curbs. Use night lights. Wear house shoes or slippers with rubber soles rather than walking around in socks or barefoot. Use a rubber mat in the shower or tub. 
  • Talk to your health care provider about other ways to ensure your bones stay strong and healthy.

“There are tests we can do to see how healthy your bones are, and there are medicines and supplements we can have you take to prevent or manage osteoporosis,” Dr. Curry said. Norton Healthcare also participates in Own the Bone through a robust bone health program for the community.

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