Are You Too Young to Worry About Osteoporosis? When most people think of osteoporosis, an image of an elderly woman with a dowager’s hump in her upper back comes to mind. If you’re in your teens, twenties, thirties … or anywhere short of 80, you may think you’re too young to worry about bone loss. But are you?
Actually, the best time to think about osteoporosis is when you still have a chance to prevent this bone-thinning disease. Ideally, you should have a bone-friendly lifestyle beginning in childhood and throughout young adulthood, when your body is building bone mass rapidly. Your body stops building bone mass by your thirties, and after menopause, women may experience accelerated bone loss due to changes in hormone levels. Even though women have the greater osteoporosis risk, men can experience bone loss and fragile bones as well. You can help protect your bone health by learning about osteoporosis risk factors and prevention now.
Once You Have Osteoporosis, Will You Always Have a Dowager's Hump? One of the hallmarks of advanced osteoporosis is kyphosis — also known as curvature of the spine or the dowager’s hump seen in the upper back. This can make dressing difficult and can also affect balance and cause discomfort. Many people think that once you have the curvature, it’s there to stay. But is this true?
Studies have shown that doing certain types of exercises will reduce the curve associated with osteoporosis and help strengthen your back. You may also need hands-on manipulation of the area and, in some instances, a back brace or other interventions to help reduce the curve.
Because of Family History, Is Osteoporosis Your Destiny? You’ve watched your mother, aunts, and grandmothers age — and witnessed their broken hips or curving spines. You may think that you can’t do anything about your osteoporosis risk. That’s just the way things go for the women in your family, right?
About 75 percent of your bone mass is determined by heredity, while another 25 percent is related to the choices you make throughout your lifetime. A strong family history is just “a red flag to take preventive measures,” says Liselle Douyon, MD, clinical assistant professor in the department of internal medicine at the
Are Hip Fractures a Normal Part of Aging? Just as people may think of the dowager’s hump when you mention the word osteoporosis, many also believe that a broken bone or two is just a normal part of aging. But are fractures really an inevitable part of getting older?
Breaking a bone is not a normal part of aging; it’s a sign that you may have osteoporosis and that your bones need help. People who fall at ground level and fracture a hip have a much higher risk of having another fracture. While you may have broken bones during your life because of forceful trauma, fragility fractures occur as a result of an impact that ordinarily would not harm bone, such as falling on the ground or even twisting an ankle or wrist. If you’ve already had a fracture, you need to take extra steps to protect your bones.
Does Osteopenia Mean I Have To Change My Lifestyle? Before you develop osteoporosis, you may be diagnosed with osteopenia, which means you have some bone loss, but not enough to be diagnosed with osteoporosis. It may be tempting to think you don’t need to worry about a small degree of bone loss. Does it mean you have to do anything differently?
You do need to make changes — osteopenia progresses to osteoporosis. Some people with osteopenia may never develop osteoporosis, but a “wait and see” approach is not worth the risk of further damage to your bones. Now is the time to make changes, including taking a vitamin D supplement and a calcium supplement, being more physically active, eating a healthy diet, and giving up smoking and excessive drinking. You may also want to talk to your doctor about whether medications you are taking or other health conditions you have could be causing bone loss.
Do I Need More Vitamin D? You may have heard that vitamin D is in certain foods and that your body can create it from exposure to sunlight, so you might think you get enough vitamin D in your diet or just by running errands outdoors. But do you really get enough vitamin D to prevent osteoporosis and maintain bone health, or do you need to increase your daily intake?
“We don’t eat vitamin D-rich eggs and sardines like we used to, and we use sunscreen when we’re outside, which prevents us from getting vitamin D,” explains Douyon. Eggs and sardines are good dietary sources of vitamin D, but many people don’t include them in their diet. And sun exposure is a problem, not only because of the risk of skin cancer, but because at certain times of the year and in northern latitudes, people may not get enough of the sun’s rays to produce enough vitamin D. Reconsider your approach and take a supplement to help prevent osteoporosis.
Are Osteoporosis Medications Riskier Than Going Untreated? You’ve heard about the side effects of osteoporosis medications, and you’re left wondering if taking these drugs is more of a risk to you than osteoporosis itself. You’re trying to weigh your options carefully, but you think you’re better off just trying to prevent a fall.
Douyon says that the most common question she gets from patients who have osteoporosis is whether the recommended medications are safe. “It’s important to know why you need to be on it. The end result of osteoporosis is fracture,” she says. “People lose their independence, and they can develop chronic pain in their backs. These medications can prevent long-term consequences.” Your doctor can recommend a safe dosage of medication for your needs. Even if you aren’t sure about taking medication yet, look at every aspect of your daily life to reduce the risk of falling.
Are Osteoporosis Medications Enough for Bone Health? Your doctor recommended osteoporosis medications to help stop bone loss and possibly strengthen your bones, and you’re taking your medication faithfully. But is that all you need to do to slow bone loss?
While taking your osteoporosis medications as prescribed is very important, there are a number of other things you need to do regularly to help protect your bones, including:
- Stop smoking
- Be physically active
- Eat a healthy, varied diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
- Get enough vitamin D
- Get enough calcium
Can Men Get Osteoporosis, Too? Say your aging father or husband breaks his wrist playing a game of tennis. When he gets back from the hospital, he says the doctor told him he might need more calcium and vitamin D. You may suspect he also needs a bone density screening test and osteoporosis treatment. But do men get osteoporosis, and do they need medication for it?
Men get osteoporosis, too, although less frequently than women. Most men will not get screened for osteoporosis until their seventies or eighties — if at all. As a result, men and their doctors often miss the signs of osteoporosis, such as a fracture or break that shouldn’t have occurred. And while a woman in the same situation might be screened for bone loss or prescribed osteoporosis medication, men often are not. So when it’s warranted, encourage the men in your life to get screened for osteoporosis.
Does Exercise Build Bones? Being physically inactive is a strong risk factor for osteoporosis, and exercise is recommended to help strengthen bones and the muscles that support them. You may also have heard that exercise actually builds bones, even if you have bone loss. Can exercise really do all that?
Exercise can indeed strengthen bones — the problem is that it does this more slowly than many people with osteoporosis need, so you cannot rely on exercise alone. But your bones definitely need weight-bearing exercise and resistance exercise to become stronger. For people with bone loss, other benefits of exercise include better balance, flexibility, and increased strength — all of which can help you avoid falling.