Bone Up on Osteoporosis: Read Ann's Story
"With my bones being the way they are, I basically do everything I can to prevent a fall."
Often called the “silent disease,” osteoporosis — a condition that weakens bones — usually does not show any symptoms and it can remain undetected until a person suffers a fracture or needs a chest x-ray. “Sometimes symptoms other than fractures do present themselves — back pain, decreased height, and curvature of the spine,” yet they tend to appear when bones have become compromised, says Angela Inzerillo, MD, a RWJ Hamilton board certified endocrinologist.
Osteoporosis occurs in more than half of people over the age of 50, including both men and women, although postmenopausal women are four times more likely to develop it than men. “Women typically lose up to 20 percent of their bone mass five to seven years after menopause,” says Inzerillo, “which makes them more susceptible to osteoporosis.” The effects can be serious. Advanced osteoporosis results in pain, deformity and a decreased ability to perform the normal activities of daily life. Bones may become so brittle that even a sudden twist of the body or a short fall can cause a fracture.
Act on your risk.
Since you cannot feel your bones getting weaker, assessing your risk of osteoporosis is critical. “Detecting low bone mass (called osteopenea) can help stop osteoporosis before it develops,” cautions Inzerillo. The good news is that there are bone mineral density tests that can detect osteoporosis before a fracture occurs. This test, called a DEXA scan, uses low-level radiation to determine bone density. It is a painless test for diagnosing osteoporosis and determining risk for fractures. People at risk should consult their physician, and those without risk factors should begin screening at age 65. Although there is no cure for osteoporosis, it can be treated, and treatment options are increasing. Because of its side effects, hormone therapy has been replaced with bisphosphonates which reduce the rate of bone loss and strengthen bones. Other options include antiresorptive and bone forming medications.
Prevention is the best medicine.
With an estimated 44 million Americans threatened by osteoporosis “most people remain unaware of the disease and what they should do to prevent it,” says Inzerello. Building strong bones through diet and exercise is the best prevention, and the earlier you start, the better.
• Get enough calcium. Calcium is critical for building bone tissue. You need 1,000 mg per day until age 50; then increase the amount to 1200 mg. The best sources are low-fat dairy, green leafy vegetables and fortified juices and cereals. Supplements also are effective.
• Get enough vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body absorb the calcium. Calcium supplements often include
vitamin D, and it also comes from fortified foods and letting your skin absorb the sunlight for 10 to 15 minutes each day.
• Get enough exercise. Like muscles, bones get stronger through resistance and bearing weight. Activities like walking, climbing stairs, and using free weights or resistance bands build bone mass. Exercise also improves balance and flexibility, which reduces the risk of falls.
• Older age
• Family history of osteoporosis
• Small and thin body size
• History of broken bones
• Low lifetime calcium intake or
vitamin D deficiency
• Use of certain medications,
chemotherapy or anticonvulsants
• Low sex hormones
(including missed periods)
• Inactive lifestyle
• Cigarette smoking
• Excessive use of alcohol
"I didn't read about it like when I developed the diabetes," Ann Hoffman admits about her osteoporosis. "I don't know if the information wasn't as avialable or what." This is a common occurrence, say Angela Inzerillo, MD. "People just don't know about it but they have become a little more aware in recent years."
Hoffmann works with her endocrinologist to make more informed decision. "With my bones being the way they are, I basically do everything I can to prevent a fall. It's important to be careful on steps-especially the last two- that's where most people fall" Inside her home, Hoffmann had bath rails installed. "They really help, and you don't get dizzy."
Besides following her physician's advice, the most important thing Hoffmann says she can do is exercise caution. "I have to watch out. I make sure where I walk is well lit. In the winter, I wear cleats when it's slippery out."
In addition to the medication and supplements, she goes for an annual DEXA scan to monitor her bone loss. "Right now, it's stable. After years of this, I'm happy."
Hoffmann has no problem staying active. "I have a treadmill at home, which I like because it's safe. It's so easy." She also sells antique Depression glass. "I do 11 or 12 glass shows a year in three states. I"m always moving boxes and staying busy...It's so nice to be around all of these beautiful things."