What is osteoporosis? Are there some essential facts I should know?
Dr. Shook says: Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to thin and weaken, resulting in a higher frequency of broken bones from things such as a minor fall. It’s called a “silent disease” because patients don’t experience warning symptoms that the condition is developing until it’s too late and they’ve broken a bone. That’s why preventive screening is important to help identify osteoporosis in its early stages.
The most common sites of osteoporosis include the wrist, spine, ankle, humerus, pelvis and hip. Although the condition itself is not life-threatening, osteoporosis can have serious long-term consequences, which is again why early identification is critical.
There is a wide range of risk factors that increase your chances of developing osteoporosis, some that are either in or out of your control. Controllable risk factors include smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, excessive weight loss, inactive lifestyle, or low calcium or vitamin D intake/poor absorption. Uncontrollable risk factors include age, family history, ethnicity, certain medications, low body weight/small, thin frame or being postmenopausal.
If you have any of these risk factors, ask your doctor whether you need a bone density test or DXA scan. Using only a small amount of radiation, this test checks bone density and can confirm an osteoporosis diagnosis.
Despite having some of the risk factors, osteoporosis is not inevitable, and taking certain measures can help prevent the disease. Although there is no known cure for osteoporosis, you can proactively protect your bones by exercising regularly, maintaining good nutrition and dietary habits, and practicing fall prevention. The Tri Rivers Osteoporosis Program helps educate patients about avoidable risk factors and encourages them to take action in caring for the structural skeleton that carries them through life.
Betsy F. Shook, MD, is a fellowship-trained rheumatologist at Tri Rivers. In addition to osteoporosis, she treats rheumatoid arthritis, gout, vasculitis, psoriatic arthritis, Ankylosing spondylitis, lupus and other connective tissue diseases.