What to know about Osteoporosis

What to Know About Osteoporosis and Bone Health

By Jennifer Shafer, MSN


Make no bones about it, you’ve got to pay attention to the part of your body you can’t see but what keeps you strong – your skeleton.

But when was the last time you gave your bones some attention? Probably not lately. Bone health tends to get overlooked until something happens: a fracture or a test that shows your skeleton is less than sturdy. By then, you may have already developed osteoporosis—a condition where your bones lose calcium and become weak.

While osteoporosis can affect both sexes, it’s more common in women, affecting about one in five women 50 and older, but only one in 20 men in the same age range. The more you know about the disease, such as your risk factors, diagnostic tests and treatment options, the better you can work to keep your skeleton strong. 

What are the risk factors?

There are certain factors that can increase your risk for developing osteoporosis. These include:

  • Your sex—Women are more likely than men to develop osteoporosis, in part because they have lower peak bone mass and smaller bones.
  • Your age—As you grow older, and especially after menopause, bone loss happens more quickly, and new bone growth is slower.
  • Your body size—If you are slender and thin-boned, your risk goes up. If you are extremely underweight either due to overtraining or anorexia nervosa, your risk also increases, regardless of your age. 
  • Your race—White and Asian women are at highest risk for osteoporosis, while African American and Mexican American women are at lower risk.
  • Your family history—If one of your parents has a history of osteoporosis or hip fracture, researchers believe that increases your risk.
  • Your estrogen levels—Lower estrogen levels due to menopause or the abnormal absence of menstrual periods due to hormone disorders or extreme levels of physical activity can increase your risk.
  • Your diet—If your diet is low in protein, calcium and vitamin D, or if you engage in excessive dieting, your risk for bone loss and osteoporosis increases.
  • Unhealthy lifestyle choices—Being physically inactive, engaging in chronic heavy drinking of alcohol or smoking all increase the likelihood that you will develop osteoporosis.

Other factors can include certain medical conditions such as endocrine and hormonal diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, or certain types of cancer as well as long-term use of specific medications. 

How is osteoporosis diagnosed?

According to the CDC, many people don’t know they have osteoporosis until they break a bone. That’s why it’s important to follow the screening guidelines to determine the condition of your bones, so you know what steps to take next. Women 65 and older and women 50 to 64 who have specific risk factors should be screened, says the CDC

The first step to gauge the health of your bones, says the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), is having a clinical exam to evaluate your overall health and determine what risk factors may affect your bones. Your doctor may have you undergo a bone mineral density (BMD) test—a painless procedure that measures your bone density on different places such as your hip, spine, forearm (between the wrist and elbow), wrist, finger or heel.

If the results indicate bone loss, your doctor may order laboratory and other tests to determine if you have another medical condition that could be causing osteoporosis. The FRAX® Risk Assessment tool estimates your 10-year fracture risk based on information about your bone density and other risk factors, explains NOF. It guides treatment decisions if you meet the following conditions: you are 50 or older and postmenopausal, you have low bone density (osteopenia) and you have not taken an osteoporosis medicine.

What are the treatment options?

Treating osteoporosis doesn’t use a one-size-fits-all approach. You and your doctor should discuss what is the best way to treat your condition. But there are some steps you can take right now to help keep your bones strong and hopefully prevent any further bone loss. 

Recommendations include being physically active, performing weight-bearing exercises regularly, limit your alcohol intake, stop smoking, and follow a healthy diet that includes adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D. According to the Surgeon General’s Report on Bone Health and Osteoporosis, this means 1,000 mg of calcium and 600 IU of vitamin D a day if you’re 19 to 50 years old. For women 51 to 70 years old, the calcium amount increases to 1,200 mg a day. For those over 70, the calcium amount remains at 1,200 mg, but the amount of vitamin D increases to 800 IU a day.

However, always discuss any new supplement plans with your health care provider since there may be contraindications. For instance, some supplements can affect any pre-existing conditions you have or medication you are currently taking.  

Bottom line? You need to do everything you can to keep your bones strong so they can support you!

Posted by Tim Meyers