Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones have less mass or density than usual, causing them to break more easily. People with osteoporosis most often break a bone in the hip, spine or wrist, usually from a minor fall or simple actions such as lifting or sneezing.
Osteoporosis is commonly referred to as a "silent disease" because there are no symptoms. Some people discover they have osteoporosis only after suffering a broken bone, or after losing height due to broken bones in the spine.
Approximately 10 million Americans have the disease and another 34 million are at high risk. Nearly half of all women over the age of 50 and one in four men will break a bone due to osteoporosis, accounting for more than 2 million fractures and $19 billion in medical costs per year. A woman's risk of breaking a hip due to osteoporosis is equal to her combined risk of developing breast, ovarian and uterine cancer.
Women account for 80 percent of Americans with osteoporosis, and postmenopausal women are most commonly affected. However, a man older than 50 is more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than he is to get prostate cancer.
Caucasian, Asian or Latino people are more likely to develop osteoporosis.
Other risk factors include: History of broken bones; small body frame/low body weight; inactive lifestyle; smoking or alcohol use; diet lacking in calcium, Vitamin D, and other nutrients; low estrogen; use of certain medications; diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, digestive/malabsorption disorders (i.e., Crohn's, ulcerative colitis and Celiac disease), hyperthyroidism and hyperparathyroidism.
A bone mineral density (BMD) test is the most accurate way to diagnose osteoporosis and is the only test that can detect the condition prior to a broken bone. The quick and painless test measures bone density in the hip, spine or forearm, and compares it to that of a healthy adult who has reached peak bone density. A "T-score" is calculated to show how much the bone density is above or below this value.
The BMD test can also detect osteopenia (low bone density, but not yet osteoporosis).
The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) recommends a bone density test for the following: women age 65 or older; men age 70 or older; individuals who suffer a broken bone after age 50; women of menopausal age with additional risk factors; postmenopausal woman under age 65 with risk factors and men age 50-59 with risk factors.
Many medications are available for the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis, but to help prevent osteoporosis, follow these basic tips from the NOF:
Be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D. Adults under age 50 need a total of 1000 milligrams of calcium and 400-800 international units (IUs) of vitamin D per day. Adults 50 and older need a total of 1200 mg of calcium from all sources and 800-1000 IU's of vitamin D per day.
Also, exercise regularly and eat healthy foods, avoid smoking and use alcohol in moderation.
Dr. Kimberly Stigers is co-director of the Saint Joseph Breast Center, specializing in breast imaging and bone densitometry, part of KentuckyOne Health