What You Should Know About Bone Health and Your Risk For Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis affects roughly 10 million Americans, with low bone density affecting another 44 million Americans.
Osteoporosis, a disease that affects bone strength and mass, is more common than you may think, says Dr. David J. Stapor, orthopedic surgeon with Allegheny Health Network.
Roughly 10 million Americans have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, with another 44 million suffering from bone loss.
One in three women and one in five men over age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
“The chance of sustaining a fracture is increased exponentially after a previous fracture,” Stapor notes.
Dr. Michael Levine, orthopedic surgeon with Allegheny Health Network, says if you are over age 50 and break a hip, you are 30% more likely to break another bone within a year and a half, and 25% more likely if you break a bone in a ground-level fall, known as a fragility fracture.
“There are more people hospitalized per year from fragility fractures than there are for stroke, breast cancer and heart attacks,” Levine notes.
Stapor says women are more likely to develop osteoporosis because they lose bone mass after menopause. Women also don’t produce as much bone in adolescence.
He says the prevalence of osteoporosis will continue to increase due to an aging population.
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, prevention begins in childhood with a bone-healthy diet and plenty of exercise to reach the highest possible peak bone mass.
“This is important because the more bone mass you have when you reach adulthood, the less likely you are to have weak and breakable bones at an older age,” the information reads.
What should adults do to help prevent bone mass loss and eventual osteoporosis?
Levine recommends weight-bearing exercise, such as walking and light weights, even in patients with the disease.
“In terms of diet, I recommend yogurts, dairy products, oily fish like salmon, green, leafy vegetables and nuts,” he adds. “If a patient suffers from food allergies, I recommend they take calcium and vitamin D supplements.”
Levine also recommends anyone living in the Northeast who has trouble regulating their vitamin D levels take supplements due to a lack of sunlight exposure.
He stresses that a patient can have close to perfect nutrition and exercise and still be predisposed to developing the disease, such as anyone taking different medications like steroids.
Conditions that typically lead to osteoporosis later in life include: autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, digestive and gastrointestinal disorders such as celiac and inflammatory bowel disease, cancer and cancer treatment, blood disorders such as leukemia and lymphoma, neurological disorders such as stroke and Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, thyroid disease and premature menopause, according to the Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation.
Levine says patients who are very thin or fair-skinned with blonde hair and blue eyes are also predisposed to the disease.
Stapor says osteoporosis typically goes unnoticed until a patient breaks a bone.
“The most common fractures are compression fractures in the spine and 70% occur with no trauma and no symptoms,” he adds.
Stapor recommends DEXA scans to determine bone density and knowledge of your family history.
“If you’ve had previous fractures, that’s a tipoff that something might be going on. Don’t ignore it,” he says, adding one of the biggest problems health care providers are noticing is low bone density and osteoporosis are under treated.
Stapor says the Allegheny Health Network’s Osteoporosis and Fragility Fracture Clinic began helping patients optimize bone health through a number of treatment methods in hopes of reducing the need for surgical intervention in April 2020.
“Education is a very key component to our work in the clinic,” he says. “We work with physical therapists to teach you balance and strength exercises as you age. Fall prevention and home assessments are also very important.”
The clinic, the first in Western Pennsylvania to participate in the American Orthopaedic Association’s Own the Bone program, allows providers to monitor patients and the potential side effects associated with some osteoporosis medications.
“The important thing to know about the medications is their goal is to prevent fractures,” he says. “The side effects are far less severe than the risk associated with fracture. A 2016 study of Medicare patients ages 65 and older showed mortality one year after a hip fracture was 30%.”
Stapor says the clinic can help prevent secondary and sometimes primary fractures if patients are proactive in being screened for bone density and seeking treatment.
He adds the U.S. would save $1.2 billion a year in associated health care costs if just 20% of fractures are prevented.
“Nationally, we still have a problem recognizing and treating low bone density,” he says. “We are hoping to change that because we don’t want you to be suffering when you’re 90 or 100. It comes down to a quality of life.”