What can I do to prevent osteoporosis?

What can I do to prevent osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones gradually become porous, weak and brittle. Bone is a living tissue that is constantly undergoing remodeling. This means that there is an ongoing tug of war between old bone breaking down and new bone being formed. 

When the balance between bone formation and bone loss becomes out of kilter such that bone break down is greater than bone formation, the bone becomes porous and gradually weakens and becomes fragile. This condition is called osteoporosis.

Symptoms of osteoporosis

Bones that are osteoporotic can fracture or break with much less force than would be necessary to break a normal bone. In the more extreme cases, a minor fall can result in a fractured wrist or a broken hip. A heavy sneeze or cough can cause a compression fracture of the spine or a fractured rib.

When a person is starting to develop osteoporosis, they are usually unaware of what is happening because there are no noticeable symptoms in the early stages. It is only in the later stages, when the bones have weakened significantly, that the symptoms become apparent, causing loss of height, a curvature of the spine (the Dowagers Hump), and fractures of the hip, wrist or spine. The net result is often back pain, difficulty walking and loss of an active lifestyle.

Knowing the risk

People at the highest risk of developing osteoporosis are females who have already had menopause. The decreasing levels of estrogen associated with menopause causes a more rapid bone loss. 

There are other factors that increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis, such as smoking, high alcohol consumption, inactivity or lack of exercise, being of Northern European or Asian decent, thin stature, and the use of certain medications such as steroids. 

Young people who have limited intake of foods rich in calcium, such as milk or cheese, are more likely to develop osteoporosis later in life.

Prevention is key

The most amazing thing about osteoporosis is that it is, for the most part, a preventable disease. Prevention requires awareness that one third of women over the age of 50 are at high risk of developing osteoporosis. Prevention is helped by a healthy lifestyle that includes taking the daily recommended amounts of calcium and Vitamin D, avoiding both smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, and a regular exercise program.

If you have risk factors for osteoporosis, you should ask your doctor to order a bone density test. A bone density test is a simple, painless test that measures the strength and hardness of your bones. A bone density test predicts the risk of experiencing a fracture in the future and it tells you if you have or are likely develop osteoporosis.

Finding the right treatment

If you do have osteoporosis, you are not doomed to have weaker and weaker bones as time goes on. It is possible to reverse bone loss and increase bone density and bone strength. 

There are multiple classes of prescription medications that have been very effective in decreasing bone loss and restoring bone density so that the debilitating effects of osteoporosis can be decreased or prevented. If you have osteoporosis, you should have a discussion with your family physician, gynecologist or orthopedic surgeon about the risks and benefits of the various medications that are available and which ones are likely to be of help.

On a personal note, in over 30 years as a practicing orthopedic surgeon, I have treated thousands of fractures that have occurred in patients whose bones were weakened by osteoporosis. It has always been sad to see the pain, financial hardship and disability that these fractures have caused. 

It is with some degree of joy, however, that I am able to diagnose a patient with osteoporosis, treat that patient effectively with one of these various medications and then by repeating the bone density test one or two years later, confirm that her bone strength is improved over the previous test. 

This indicates not only that their bones have transitioned from becoming weaker with time to becoming stronger with time, but also that they can be spared the suffering experienced by so many patients who have had osteoporosis in the past.

About this Angie’s List Expert: Dr. John Petrillo is an orthopedic surgeon with Ocean Orthopedic Associates, providing orthopedic medicine in New York. Since 1969, Ocean Orthopedic Associates have specialized in sports medicine, spine, total joint replacement and more. You can follow this #ALExperts contributor on Twitter @OceanOrthopedic.

As of March 11, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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