With nary a symptom of weakening bone strength, osteoporosis sneaks up on you until a fall or a simple task, like picking up a grocery bag, results in a painful bone fracture.
"We call it the 'silent disease' because there are often no signs to alert us that a patient's bones have lost density, putting them at a higher risk for fracture," says Dr. Peter Hanson, medical director of orthopedics at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.
Approximately 10 million Americans currently live with osteoporosis and 34 million more have low bone mass, placing them at risk for developing the disease.
Know your risk factors
There are a variety of risk factors for developing osteoporosis:
- Age — As we age, bones become less dense and weaker
- Race — Caucasian and Asian women are most at risk, but the disease can develop among people of all races
- Body weight and bone structure — People who weigh less and have a smaller body frame may be at greater risk for osteoporosis
- Estrogen deficiency — This is one of the main causes of bone loss in women, which occurs during and after menopause
- Lifestyle — Lack of physical activity, caffeine, excessive alcohol use, smoking, and dietary calcium and vitamin D deficiency may all contribute to a person's risk
- Family history of fractures — A person may be genetically predisposed to developing osteoporosis
Practice bone loss prevention
In most cases, the risk of osteoporosis is reduced by a few lifestyle changes:
- Diet — Eat foods high in calcium and vitamin D. It is recommended that premenopausal women and men have at least 1,000 mg of calcium per day and postmenopausal women have 1,200 mg or more of calcium. 800 IU of vitamin D is recommended each day.
- Exercise — Get plenty of weight-bearing exercise. Walk at least 30 minutes, three times per week. Balance exercises, such as yoga and tai chi, can also help reduce bone loss and prevent falls.
- Make healthy choices — Stop smoking, cut back or eliminate your caffeine intake and limit alcohol use.
- Prevent falls — Ensure that your home and other locations you frequent are clear of clutter or other hazards. Use handrails when available and helping hands when offered.
Although osteoporosis is called the silent disease, individuals should not remain silent about their concerns.
"Talk to your health care providers about bone health," Dr. Hanson suggests.
"When appropriate, have a bone density test and take medication as prescribed. Together, you and your doctor can slow the progress of, or even prevent, osteoporosis."