On October 20th, the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) sponsors
World Osteoporosis Day to call attention to the prevention of osteoporosis,
a condition that causes bones to become weak and fragile, putting individuals
at a higher risk of fractures as they grow older.
Viewed under a microscope, healthy bone looks like a honeycomb. When osteoporosis
occurs, the holes and spaces in the honeycomb are much larger than in
healthy bone. As bones become weaker, fractures occur more frequently
and, with age, take longer to heal. Some injuries can lead to ongoing
pain, loss of stature, long recovery periods and the inability to live
an independent life.
Causes and Risk Factors
Bone is a living tissue in a constant state of regeneration. The body continually
absorbs old bone tissue and generates new bone to maintain density, strength
and structural integrity. As a person ages, bone breaks down faster than
it rebuilds. Osteoporosis may develop if this breakdown occurs excessively.
According to the IOF, unavoidable risk factors include:
- Sex hormones: Reduced estrogen levels after menopause, making it harder
for the bone to regenerate.
- Ethnicity: Caucasian and Asian people have a higher risk than other ethnic groups.
- Genetic factors: Having a close family member diagnosed with hip fracture
- Fracture history: A person over 50 years of age with previous fractures
and a low-level injury is more likely to receive a diagnosis of osteoporosis.
However, there are some risk factors that you can control, such as:
- Vitamin D intake: You’re more prone to bone loss if your diet lacks
calcium and vitamin D.
- Medications: Some medications may be harmful to bones, even if needed for
another condition. Ask your doctor who prescribes your medication if you
can lower the dose or take another type of medicine. Never change the
dosage or stop taking any medication without speaking to your doctor first.
- Inactivity: A lack of exercise can weaken bones. Weight-bearing exercise
helps prevent osteoporosis, placing controlled stress on the bones and
encouraging bone growth.
- Alcohol use: Too much alcohol consumption can cause bone loss and fractures.
- Smoking: Cigarettes affect many areas of the body, including bones.
Diagnosis and Prevention
A silent condition, osteoporosis develops slowly and has no apparent symptoms.
As a result, people may not know they have it until they experience a
fracture or break, often in the hips, wrist, or spinal vertebrae. That’s
why it’s important to find out if bones are getting weaker before
a fracture occurs.
One common test doctors use to determine bone density is a dual-energy
X-ray absorptiometry scan — also called a DXA scan or DEXA scan.
During this painless test, a scanner passes over the body, usually the
hip and spine, to assess bone mineral density and determine if bone is
The IOF estimates that one in three women and one in five men age 50 years
and older will suffer an osteoporotic fracture during their lifetime.
Healthy lifestyle choices are the best way to prevent osteoporosis. Here
are some tips:
- Eat a healthy and varied diet, including calcium-rich foods and protein.
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D, through diet or supplements.
- Stop smoking and avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
- Be physically active and perform weight-bearing exercises. Activities that
improve balance, such as yoga, can help prevent falls.
If you are over the age of 50 and have one or more risk factors, Southeast
Georgia Health System encourages you to ask your doctor for an assessment
of your bone health status. To find a physician, visit
sghs.org/find-a-provider or call 855-ASK-SGHS (855-275-7447).