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Both Men and Women are at Risk for Osteoporosis

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 adults.”

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