Early Diagnosis With Screening Can Prevent Serious Breaks
Did you know that by age 30 you have the most amount of bone you will ever
have? It’s called peak bone mass. After that, the balance between
bone formation and bone loss starts to change and eventually you can develop
osteoporosis, a bone disease that can cause your bones to become weak
and break more easily. May is National Osteoporosis Month, a good time
to learn more about this condition and ways to prevent it.
“Osteoporosis is more common in women, but men are also at risk,”
said Dr. Prasad Katta, a local endocrinologist and member of the Washington
Hospital medical staff. “We often overlook it in men, but both men
and women have a gradual decline in bone mass as they age. Once women
reach menopause, the loss of bone mass is dramatic, which is why we associate
osteoporosis with women.”
About 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or low bone density (osteopenia),
according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Estimates suggest that
about half of all women and a quarter of all men over the age of 50 will
break a bone due to osteoporosis.
A number of factors can increase your risk for developing osteoporosis,
including age, race, lifestyle choices, and medical conditions and treatments.
Those most at risk are women over age 65, those who are Caucasian or Asian,
men who have had prostate cancer, anyone with a family history of the
disease, and people who lead a sedentary lifestyle, smoke tobacco, or
drink excessive amounts of alcohol. Prolonged use of medications like
steroids can also increase the risk.
With osteoporosis, the bones become thin and weak. They can break from
even a minor fall, or in more severe cases, from seemingly innocuous actions
like sneezing or bumping into furniture. Breaking a bone can be serous,
particularly as you age. Broken bones occur most commonly in the hip,
spine, and wrist. About 20 percent of seniors who break a hip die within
one year from problems related to the break or the surgery to repair it,
according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
“Osteoporosis can cause serious injuries and disabilities,”
Dr. Katta said. “It is often called a silent disease because you
don’t know you have it until you break a bone. That’s why
it’s so important to take steps to prevent it and get screened regularly
if you are at risk.”
Take Steps to Prevent Osteoporosis
There are certain lifestyle choices you can make that can help you keep
your bones strong as you age and prevent osteoporosis, he added. Avoid
smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, and exercise regularly. Consuming
low-fat dairy, green leafy vegetables, and other sources of calcium and
vitamin D can also help to reduce your risk.
“Adults should exercise at least 30 minutes a day most days of the
week,” Dr. Katta said. “That should include weight-bearing
exercises, which help to build muscle and bone. Calcium and vitamin D
supplements can also help with new bone formation.”
Anyone who is at high risk for osteoporosis should get screened, according
to Dr. Katta. Those with no known risk factors should start getting screened
at age 60.
The most common screening is called a DEXA bone density test, which is
painless and takes about 20 minutes. It involves getting a type of X-ray
of the hip and spine. It uses X-ray technology but the radiation dose
is much lower than that of a chest X-ray. The test results are given as
a T-score, which represents the overall strength of your bones. If you
fall below average, the T-score will be a negative number.
“A T-score of -2.5 or lower indicates that you have osteoporosis,”
Dr. Katta explained. “A T-score between -2.4 and -1 shows osteopenia,
which is low bone density but not osteoporosis. Anything above -1 is normal,
meaning no osteoporosis or osteopenia.”
There are a number of medications available to treat osteoporosis. They
can help to strengthen the bone and prevent fractures, but most don’t
actually build new bone, according to Dr. Katta. The most common medications
are oral medications called bisphosphonates, which help to strengthen
the existing bone.
“The only medication that builds new bone is a hormone that is injected
every day for two years,” Dr. Katta said. “It has been very
effective for some patients. The other medications can make the bone much
stronger and help to prevent bone fractures, which is very important.
Bone fractures can have devastating consequences, especially for older
If you are interested in having a DEXA bone density test, talk to your
primary care doctor to get a referral to Washington Outpatient Imaging.
For more information about program and services at Washington Hospital
that can help you stay healthy, visit www.whhs.com.