October is most commonly associated with breast-cancer awareness, with so many people wearing pink – pink ribbons, pink t-shirts, even pink football gear! But this month is also an ideal time to talk about osteoporosis because “Bone and Joint Action Week” was observed Oct. 12- 20 and “World Osteoporosis Day” occurred Oct. 20.
Osteoporosis is a disease that reduces the density and quality of bones. Our bones are actually living tissue and are constantly changing through a process of remodeling, with some bone cells dissolving and new ones regenerating.
From birth until young adulthood, bones are growing and strengthening. Our bones are the strongest in our early 20s when we reach peak bone mass.
As we age, however, bone loss outpaces the growth of new bone. This process usually happens silently and progressively. Bones become porous and brittle. The more this happens, the greater the risk of fractures. There are often no symptoms until the first fracture.
Osteoporosis is a worldwide disease. In general, one in three women and one in five men are at risk of an osteoporotic fracture. Men and women over age 60 are at higher risk of osteoporosis than younger people. The most common places for these fractures are the hip, spine and wrist. Of particular concern are fractures of the spine (vertebrae) and hip.
Vertebral fractures result in serious consequences such as loss of height, intense back pain and deformity. A hip fracture often requires surgery and may result in loss of mobility and independence or even death.
Although bone loss is inevitable as we get older, lifestyle factors can help keep bones as strong as possible. Follow these recommendations for better bone health:
— Eat a nutritious diet with adequate calcium intake.
— Avoid under-nutrition.
— Maintain an adequate supply of vitamin D.
— Participate in regular weight-bearing activity.
— Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke.
— Avoid heavy drinking.
Bone-mineral density is most commonly measured by a technique called dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). DXA is a low radiation x-ray that detects small percentages of bone loss. Typically, a DXA scan measures the density in the spine and hip to assess if one has osteoporosis.
Screening typically begins at age 65 for women unless there are additional risk factors that prompt earlier screening. While there are no clear guidelines for men, our UCLA Geriatrics practice typically starts screening men when they reach age 80.
There are several effective medications approved for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, your doctor can prescribe the most appropriate medication to use in conjunction with healthy lifestyle changes.
Dr. Grace Chen is a board-certified geriatrician with the highly regarded UCLA Geriatrics Program in Santa Monica and Westwood. For more information, call (310) 319-4371 or visit www.uclahealth.org.