Release Date: 9/6/2011
Dr. Wagstaff: Osteoporosis called ‘silent killer’
Dr. Donna Wagstaff, a family practitioner with a special interest in women's health, is a member of St. Anthony's Physician Organization.
Osteoporosis is a crippling bone disease that affects more than 44 million Americans, 80 percent of them women. Often called the “silent killer,” it may develop unnoticed over many years, with no symptoms or discomfort, until a fracture occurs.
Osteoporosis causes progressive bone loss, leaving the bones porous, fragile and likely to break. It is responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures each year, including more than 700,000 vertebral fractures and more than 300,000 hip fractures. An estimated one in two women and one in five men over age 65 will sustain bone fractures due to osteoporosis.
Some major risk factors that can lead to developing osteoporosis include:
- Aging. Everyone loses bone mass with age, because the body builds less new bone. Women can lose up to 20 percent of their bone mass in the five to seven years following menopause.
- Heredity. Family history of osteoporosis or of bone fractures; small, slender body build; fair skin, and Caucasian or Asian background.
- Lifestyle. Poor nutrition, Vitamin D deficiency, low calcium intake, sedentary habits, excessive alcohol intake, smoking, anorexia nervosa and the use of some medications.
While some factors, like age and heredity, can’t be changed, lifestyle habits can. Since the average woman has acquired 98 percent of her skeletal mass by age 20, the secret to healthy bones is to begin early in life. A balanced diet rich in calcium and Vitamin D, a regular routine of weight-bearing exercise and a healthy lifestyle without smoking or excessive alcohol intake can help prevent the development of osteoporosis later in life.
Although there is no cure for osteoporosis, treatment is available to prevent further bone loss. The key is early identification of not only those already affected by it but also those at risk for developing it. This is accomplished with a simple test to measure bone density. Your physician may order this test, which entails a quick and painless scan of your hips and spine. A computer compares your bone density to that of a normal 20-year-old, identifying whether or not you are at risk for fractures of the wrist, hip and spine. The lower the bone density, the higher the risk.
Osteoporosis may be treated with biophosphonates, Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERMs), calcitonin or possibly hormone replacement therapy. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each treatment with your physician. Additionally, increasing your intake of calcium and Vitamin D can help lessen your risk of bone fracture. Talk to your doctor before taking a calcium supplement.
No matter what your age, exercise can help you minimize bone loss. Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, dancing or climbing stairs, and weightlifting exercises are the most beneficial. Consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
For information, please call our Health Access Line at 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 800-554-9550 or visit find a physician online.
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