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Taking care of your bones

Osteoporosis is described as a silent disease because you cannot feel your bones weaken, and you may only get diagnosed after you have already fractured.

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Did you know that one fracture due to osteoporosis occurs every three seconds? And that after 50 years of age, one in three women and one in five men will suffer a fracture in their remaining lifetime? This risk of fracture is even greater than that of developing breast or prostate cancer.

Osteoporosis has been recognized as a serious condition that calls for effective ways to prevent, delay, minimize or reverse the changes that occur. So, in 1998, the second week of October was proclaimed by then President Joseph Estrada as National Osteoporosis Awareness Week. The 20th of October is also designated as World Osteoporosis Day.

Osteoporosis means “porous bone,” where normally compact bone becomes weaker and more likely to fracture. Osteoporosis is described as a silent disease because you cannot feel your bones weaken, and you may only get diagnosed after you have already fractured.

Photograph courtesy of mountelizabeth.com.sg

Osteoporosis should be suspected if fractures occur easily, such as from tripping or falling from a standing height. Although falls are the most common cause, fractures can also be caused by milder forms of trauma — bending over, sudden twisting of the torso or even just forceful coughing.

As people are living longer, the cases of osteoporosis around the world are increasing. While osteoporosis is diagnosed more frequently in older post-menopausal women, it is not a given that every woman who undergoes menopause will develop osteoporosis. It can also occur at a younger age and in men as well.

After a fracture, bones may heal, but complications can occur and 20 percent of patients can die within the year after a major fracture like a hip fracture. A fracture may also result in temporary of permanent loss of mobility. About 50 percent of people with one osteoporotic fracture will have another, with the risk of new fractures rising exponentially with each fracture.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include being Asian or Caucasian, a family history of osteoporosis, being underweight, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, lack of exercise, and a diet low in calcium and vitamin D, which are essential nutrients for building strong bones.

Photograph courtesy of acellortho.com

Some endocrine or hormone problems can also lead to osteoporosis. It may also be genetic or inherited, meaning bones are weak from birth and do not develop well. Having severe kidney or liver disease and certain medications for seizures, depression, acid reflux and diabetes are other causes. Bone cancer or cancer that spreads to bone can also cause it to weaken.

Screening for osteoporosis is done with a bone mineral density test using a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) machine at 65 years of age, or earlier if with risk factors and unusual fractures.

These are done once a year, and should be done on the same machine so that results from year to year can be accurately compared. Other blood and urine tests are sometimes needed to check for other possible causes. If you have osteoporosis, your doctor can prescribe medication that can prevent your bones from getting weaker or even build them up to become stronger.

The best way to avoid osteoporosis actually begins in childhood. With proper nutrition and exercise, children develop sturdier bones and can get their bones to be as strong as they can be by the early twenties. As we age our bones slowly weaken, but the stronger our bones in our youth, the less likely it is to develop osteoporosis in the future.

Weight bearing exercise, such as walking and jogging, is essential in building strong bones. Aim to exercise three to five days a week for 30 minutes each day. If you already have osteoporosis and use weights these should be less than 10 pounds per weight. Always do these activities with caution and take care to not fall.

Because if you don’t fall you’re less likely to fracture. Use a cane for balance and install grab bars in your bathroom. Watch out for slippery surfaces, and look where you are stepping, especially on stairs and sidewalks. Turn on the lights if you get up at night. Have your vision checked and wear your eyeglasses. Do not have scattered small items, rugs and electrical cables that can cause you to trip. Also be careful around pets you might trip over or that can jump on you and cause you to fall.

If you are over 50 years old, suspect that you might be at risk for osteoporosis, or that you may already have osteoporosis, talk to your doctor. A simple test can help check if you are at risk and if you need treatment. Don’t wait until that first fracture to start taking steps for better bone health.

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