Literally meaning “porous bone”, osteoporosis is a very common bone disease causing bones to be weak and brittle. Like other tissues in our body new bone cells are created to replace the old ones but in osteoporosis, the body loses too much bone, can’t keep up with replacing the old bone cells, or both. This can cause bones to break under normally benign situations like a low fall or coughing. Broken or fractured bones can be painful and lead to life-altering loss of mobility.
Osteoporosis is an increasingly common disease causing over 2 million broken bones every year in the United States. It is estimated that one in two women and about one in four men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to this disease. Interestingly, many people – 84% – don’t test or get treated for osteoporosis after a bone fracture even though that is often the first indicator of the disease. Because of this missed connection to osteoporosis and its painless development, it is sometimes referred to as “the silent disease”. Fractured or broken bones especially in the hip, wrist, and spine, a decrease in height, and a curved spine can be indicators for osteoporosis.
Some factors may increase a person’s risk for developing the disease, including:
- Family history
- Postmenopausal women or those with low estrogen
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Low calcium and vitamin D intake
- Underweight or obesity (excessive abdominal fat)
- Some medications
- Certain medical conditions
- Over-consumption of alcohol
Recognizing risk factors empowers people to take control of their situation and make active decisions about their health. While a common disease often associated with the elderly, osteoporosis is by no means a normal part of aging. Luckily, it is preventable and manageable. There are lots of resources available but a balanced diet, exercise, and maintaining a healthy body weight go a long way for prevention. As an added bonus it also helps prevent other conditions like heart disease and diabetes! Even if you don’t drink milk, there are alternatives for calcium and vitamin D (which helps the body absorb the calcium). Pay attention to how your medicine or other health conditions can affect your bone density. Speak to your healthcare provider about specific risk factors, prevention options, and screening as they apply to you.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation experts point out, “…that osteoporosis is often considered a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences…” because almost all of a person’s bone mass is developed by the ages of 18 for females and 20 for males. Lifestyle decisions throughout life can have an impact on later health so it’s never too early or late to start making conscious, healthy decisions. Conversations between the older and younger generations may help improve future health projections.