Most of us don’t give our bones much thought – until there’s a problem. Osteoporosis, or porous bone, is a major health concern for millions of Americans and is a potential problem for millions more. It affects more than half of those age 50 and older.

Most of us don’t give our bones much thought – until there’s a problem. Osteoporosis, or porous bone, is a major health concern for millions of Americans and is a potential problem for millions more. It affects more than half of those age 50 and older.

May is National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month – a time to bring the disease to mind and educate people about the dangers of osteoporosis and what they can do to keep their bones strong. Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue. Simply put, the bones become weak and break easily. A minor fall or even a sneeze can cause a break. A person with osteoporosis may not even be aware of it, because it doesn’t cause symptoms until bones facture.

Osteoporosis is often thought of as “an old woman’s disease.” While it’s true that women are four times more likely than men to develop the disease, it does strike both sexes, and people of all ages. Other factors that increase the risk of the disease include a family history, being small and thin, being inactive, smoking, alcohol abuse and certain other diseases or medications.

Since there are no early symptoms of the disease, the best way to know where you stand is a screening that measures a person’s bone density.

The most common and most reliable screening is a DEXA scan. DEXA stands for dual energy X-ray absorptiometry. While it might sound a bit frightening, it’s painless – it doesn’t even require an IV or injection. You lie still on a table while two X-ray beams pass through the body and measurements are made on the amount of X-ray that passes through the bone. It takes about 10-20 minutes and is very safe. The radiation exposure from a DEXA scan is much less than that from a traditional chest X-ray.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends bone density testing for:

 Women age 65 or older

 

 Postmenopausal women under age 65 with one or more risk factors for osteoporosis

 

 Men age 70 or older

 

 Men between ages 50 and 70 with one or more risk factors for osteoporosis

 

 Men or women older than age 40 who have experienced broken bones

 

 Women who have stopped taking estrogen therapy or hormone therapy.


The test gives you a score that indicates whether your bone density is normal, lower than normal or have osteoporosis.

People with scores below normal, yet higher than indicating osteoporosis have osteopenia. That means there’s a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. Early detection is important to treatment.

There are medications available to help either slow or stop bone loss and some medications can even rebuild bone.

There are always risks associated with medications, so it’s important to discuss treatment options with your physician and weigh the risks and benefits.

Lifestyle changes should also be part of the treatment plan – if you smoke, stop; get adequate calcium, limit carbonated drinks and do some weight-bearing exercise every day.