Osteoporosis is a silent and harsh disease that can severely impact your bone health. Tomorrow is World Osteoporosis Day and specialists around the world are raising awareness on how to prevent this debilitating disease.
The silent disease
Abby Abelson, M.D. from Cleveland Clinic, a top American Hospital, said bone health often flies under the radar. That said, it can become critical to someone’s independence as they age.
“Losing bone strength is frequently the one thing that makes somebody have to go to a nursing home and give up their independence, or be unable to participate in the activities that they love so much – like caring for their families, lifting up their grandchildren, playing golf, playing tennis, being active – all the things that make our lives worthwhile,” said Dr. Abelson.
This is how osteoporosis affects your health
CDC reports that people with osteoporosis are more likely to break bones, most often in the hip, forearm, wrist, and spine. While most broken bones are caused by falls, osteoporosis can weaken bones to the point that a break can occur more easily, for example by coughing or bumping into something. As you get older, you are more likely to have osteoporosis and recovering from a broken bone becomes harder. Broken bones can have lasting effects including pain that does not go away. Osteoporosis can cause the bones in the spine to break and begin to collapse, so that some people with it get shorter and are not able to stand up straight. Broken hips are especially serious—afterward, many people are not able to live on their own and are more likely to die sooner.
Build strong bone health from childhood
According to Dr. Abelson, habits that build strong bones start in childhood and set the stage for future bone health. First, she said a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is important for building bone.
For adults, 1,200 milligrams of calcium is sufficient each day; while about 800 units of vitamin D is adequate for most. Foods rich in calcium include milk, cheese, fortified orange juice, spinach and kale. Vitamin D is absorbed from sunlight, obtained from supplements, and found in foods like salmon, tuna and eggs.
Good bone health habits
Dr. Abelson also recommends activities that put stress on bones to stimulate bone growth – even a brisk walk produces enough stress to build bone.
It’s also important to avoid smoking, excessive amounts of alcohol, and a sedentary lifestyle because these habits have a negative impact on bone health.
There are medications available to help reduce the risk of bone fracture for people who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis.
Dr. Abelson said some people are hesitant to take certain osteoporosis medicines because of rare complications they’ve heard, or read, about. She said these medications work best when taken as prescribed. Therefore, it’s important to discuss benefits and risks with a health care provider.
“Those risks are so unlikely and they’re much less than your risk of having a hip fracture,” she said. “So work with your doctor about timing of medication, timing of procedures, as well as making sure that everybody really understands that we’re trying to prevent future fractures.”
The Bottom Line
According to the CDC, if one of your parents has had a broken bone, especially a broken hip, you may need to be screened earlier for osteoporosis. This is a medical condition where bones become weak and are more likely to break. Share your family health history with your doctor. Your doctor can help you take steps to strengthen weak bones and prevent broken bones.
Don’t wait until you have a broken bone to take steps to improve your bone health—you can start at any age!
Read more about osteoporosis and what you can do to mitigate you own risk and your family this World Osteoporosis Day
About the author
Abby G. Abelson, MD, is interim chair of the Department of Rheumatology at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the rheumatology program director, chair of Workforce and Training at the American College of Rheumatology, and a course director of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine.
Born in Cleveland, Dr. Abelson earned her degree from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. She then completed her internship and residency in Medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Cleveland, where she was chief resident.
As a champion of education, Dr. Abelson was recently honored with the Kaiser Award for Outstanding Medical Educator of the Year in Basic Science.
Dr. Abelson is board certified in the subspecialty of rheumatology and is a certified clinical densitometrist. As a rheumatologist, she has always been involved in caring for women with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. When her mother had a hip fracture almost 20 years ago, she came to know first-hand about the devastating consequences of osteoporosis. That said, she has developed a special interest in metabolic bone disease. Dr. Abelson has been a guest speaker for several years on the subject of osteoporosis at Speaking of Women’s Health in Cleveland and is the author of The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Osteoporosis.