Monday, June 13, 2011

The Dangers of Osteoporosis

by Anne Pagnoni

Osteoporosis, which is a disease in which the bones become weak and brittle, is a condition affecting almost 10 million Americans with another 34 million being at risk for the condition. Of these almost 20% are men. While osteoporosis may not sound like a devastating disease, consider the fact that bones can become so weak and brittle that even mild stressors such as bending over, sneezing, or coughing can cause a bone fracture.

When we're younger, breaking a bone isn't necessarily a serious condition. Think of the young child who falls and breaks an arm while bike riding. He often returns to school with a cast on his arm and a marker so that all of his friends can sign it. Breaking a bone when we're older, however, is a serious condition. Broken bones due to osteoporosis most likely occur in the spine or hip both of which directly support our weight. Hip fractures in older adults can lead to disability and even death due to postoperative complications.

Some people with osteoporosis find themselves with spinal fractures even though they haven't fallen or otherwise injured themselves. This is a result of the bones in the back becoming so brittle that they begin to compress on each other. Compression fractures tend to be very painful and require a long recovery.

There are a variety of risk factors for osteoporosis - some we can change and some we can't. Risk factors that we can change include maintaining an adequate amount of calcium in our diets; stopping smoking; getting regular exercise; avoiding excessive alcohol consumption; and, if possible, avoiding the long-term use of corticosteroid medications. Risk factors that can't be changed include being a woman; increasing age; being either white or of Asian descent; having a family history of osteoporosis; being of a small body frame; possessing too much of the thyroid hormone; or having certain medical conditions including celiac disease and Crohn's Disease.

Certain medications can be prescribed to help slow bone loss and maintain bone mass. Hormone therapy, particularly estrogen, can help maintain bone density if started shortly after menopause; however, this can increase the risk of developing a plethora of other ailments including blood clots, breast cancer, and even heart disease. Physical therapy is another option which can be helpful in improving bone strength.

If you find yourself diagnosed with Osteoporosis, there are a few things that you can do to work to maintain your independence. Maintain good posture as this can help alleviate stress on your spine. If you need to lift something, make sure that you bend at your knees and not your waist, and lift with your legs. Wear low-heeled shoes with nonslip soles. Make sure that you don't have any tripping or fall hazards at home including electrical cords, throw rugs, and slippery surfaces. Keep your home brightly lit and install grab bars both inside and outside of your shower door. If you are in chronic pain, then discuss this with your doctor. Chronic pain can begin to limit your mobility, which will result in even more pain.

When it comes to osteoporosis, prevention truly is the best medicine. Make sure that you're getting adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D in your diet. If you aren't sure that you're getting enough, then talk to your doctor about supplements that you can take. Exercise regularly. While you don't have to be a body builder, make sure that you're incorporating strength training with weight bearing exercises.

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