Osteoporosis is a silent disease. Fractures from osteoporosis can cripple and cause lifelong disability. Bones can become so fragile that everyday activities such as carrying a grocery bag, sneezing or hugging can cause painful fractures. Osteoporosis results in two million fractures every year in the United States. As many as 24 percent of patients older than 50 who have hip fractures die the following year from problems caused by lack of activity, such as blood clots and pneumonia.
Osteopenia is a condition in which bone mineral density is lower than normal. Osteopenia is decreased bone density but not to the extent of osteoporosis. This decreased bone density leads to bone fragility and an increased chance of breaking a bone (fracture). It is considered by many doctors to be a precursor to osteoporosis. However, not every person diagnosed with osteopenia will develop osteoporosis. Recognition and treatment can reduce your risk of fracture reoccurrence by 30 to 50 percent.
Osteoporosis occurs when there is an imbalance between new bone formation and old bone resorption. The body may fail to form enough new bone, or too much old bone may be reabsorbed, or both.
Exercise, calcium and vitamin D are the keys to preventing osteoporosis. Regular, weight-bearing exercise strengthens bones before menopause and slows bone loss afterwards. Low-impact or step aerobics, brisk walking and tennis are examples of weight-bearing exercise. Even walking a few blocks a day will help. If you have concerns about physical problems that may be affected by exercise, it makes sense to talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program.
Your body uses calcium every day for a number of vital processes, but it does not make calcium. If there is not enough calcium available in your bloodstream, your body takes it from your bones. Many people get only half the calcium they need. Good sources of calcium are dairy products such as milk and yogurt, leafy vegetables, nuts, seafood and juices and cereals fortified with calcium.
Your body cannot use calcium without vitamin D. Our bodies make vitamin D when exposed to sunshine. Fifteen minutes of sunshine a day helps skin produce enough vitamin D. In addition, milk and other foods contain vitamin D as a supplement. Many people, especially the elderly, do not have enough vitamin D, because they spend limited time in the sun, and the body’s ability to use vitamin D declines with age.
Additionally, taking fall prevention measures can help prevent injuries, especially fractures. The most common place for falls to occur is in the home. The good news is that making a few simple changes can help prevent these falls. These include cleaning up unnecessary clutter, repairing or removing tripping hazards, installing grab bars and handrails where appropriate, making sure interior and exterior lighting is good, wearing nonslip shoes, and installing skid-resistant strips in showers and tubs.