Osteoporosis can affect up to 50% of adults over 50

Posted on: July 11th, 2022 by Zhe Liang, MD

Did you know that half of all women, and a quarter of all men, will eventually break a bone due to osteoporosis?

This bone disease has the potential to affect half of all adults ages 50 and older – and that’s an important reason to be on the lookout for it. Often, symptoms aren’t noticed until there is already a bone fracture.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include:

•   Low body weight
•   Menopausal
•   Smoking
•   Inadequate intake of calcium/vitamin D
•   Family history of osteoporosis
•   Malignancy (such as multiple myeloma)
•   Medications (such as steroid, thyroid hormone and chemotherapy)
•   Rheumatological disease (such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus)
•   History of prior fragility fracture
•   GI disorders (inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, history of intestinal bypass surgery,      pancreatic insufficiency)

Patients with osteoporosis can find themselves losing weight and developing a “hunchback.” They might experience a hip fracture, which significantly limits independence and involves a lengthy recovery. Those healing from hip fractures are at risk of developing blood clots, bedsores, pneumonia, and potential death.

Doctors can screen for osteoporosis prior to a broken bone by using a DEXA scan. This test indicates low bone density in patients, so we can begin treatment to strengthen bones before trouble arises.

All women over age 65 should have a DEXA scan, and women under age 65 should have it if they exhibit any other risk factors. For men, the guidelines are less clear, but generally suggested for men over 50 with osteoporosis risk factors as well as a history of low-impact fracture, incidental findings of low bone density on X rays, height loss, or parathyroid disorders.

Typically, DEXA scans are repeated after a year of treatment, but sometimes, a new doctor will order a DEXA scan, even if it hasn’t been that long. That might be because of differences in machine algorithms or technician styles. Doctors will want to compare data from the same machine at the same clinic to ensure that treatment is working as intended.

To prevent osteoporosis, start by getting the proper amount of calcium and vitamin D in your diet; that’s 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 800 units of vitamin D daily.

When determining whether you need to supplement your dietary calcium, attribute 300 milligrams to each serving of dairy you consume daily. Beyond that, the type of supplement is your choice. Calcium carbonate is better if taken with food, but not ideal for patients taking proton-pump inhibitors for reflux. Calcium citrate, meanwhile, is an alternative better taken while fasting.

Additionally, prevent osteoporosis through weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises such as weightlifting, yoga, hiking, or low-impact aerobics. Focus on foods such as dairy products, dark leafy greens and fatty fish like salmon or tuna. Finally, quit smoking and drink alcohol only in moderation.

If you are at risk, you can talk to your doctor about what you can do now to help prevent the disease.

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