SHELBYVILLE, Ill. -- May is Osteoporosis Month. So it's time to bone up (no pun intended) on this "silent disease" -- named because it slowly robs bone mass and can go undetected until a fracture occurs. Get the scoop on osteoporosis symptoms (or lack of), osteoporosis treatment, and exercise to help osteoporosis.
"Many people think of osteoporosis as an older person's disease, and while it does primarily affect older women, it can strike at any age," said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Damon T. Arnold.
Osteoporosis has no symptoms in its early stages. Many people do not realize there is a problem until they have unexplained back pain or break a hip.
Although osteoporosis is commonly thought of as a woman's disease, men can also develop the disease.
"I recommend patients start scanning at age 65 and have scans every two years," said Shelbyville doctor Doris Bowers. "I'm a big believer in osteoporosis screening."
Scanning can be done with a machine that uses a low dose of radiation to measure the bone mineral density in the lower back and hips areas.
A DEXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) scan is the most common test used for measuring bone loss.
"The DEXA scan gives a good indication of the density of the rest of the bones," said Shelby Memorial Hospital Radiology Department manager Amy Waddington. "We do a good number of the scans here."
Some of the signs associated with osteoporosis include loss of height over time, low back pain and a stooped posture. Wrist and ankle fractures are also common indicators. "One in five women over the age of 50 will have osteoporosis," Dr. Bowers said. "I will order scans in those younger than 65 who have any of those signs." She added that osteoporosis can be found in men who have chronically used steroids, are over 70 years of age, have low testosterone levels, show a loss of height, or have unexplained back pain. It can also occur in men who have taken hormone treatment for prostate cancer. Bone density testing is recommended if you are post-menopausal and not taking estrogen, have a personal or maternal history of hip fracture, are a smoker, use medications that cause bone loss, are a woman who is post-menopausal and tall and thin, are a man with clinical conditions associated with bone loss, have a thyroid or parathyroid condition, have had a fracture after only mild trauma. There are things that people can do to help reduce or prevent osteoporosis. "In addition to taking calcium and Vitamin D, the number one thing people can do is exercise," Dr. Bowers said. "Weight-bearing exercises like walking, jogging and dancing are best."
"Another thing is to avoid alcohol and smoking. Those two things weaken bones," she added. Dr. Bowers recommends avoiding situations that can result in a fall, such as walking on ice. Osteoporosis prevention can begin at a very young age with proper nutrition. "It is important for children to get calcium and vitamin D in their diets as 85-90 percent of bone mass is gained by age 18 for girls and 20 for boys," Dr. Arnold said. "Building strong bones during childhood and adolescences will help reduce the chances of developing osteoporosis later in life."