Silent Osteoporosis Can Stop You in Your Tracks

Osteoporosis is a silent disease you may not realize you have until you break a bone. Osteoporosis – also known as thinning bones – can leave patients not only with broken bones, but also pain. While this condition doesn’t have any easy-to-see symptoms, it’s important everyone – especially women – know about osteoporosis, their risk for developing it, and how to prevent it.

Osteoporosis is most common in older women, but anyone can have it. Some risk factors include aging, being female, low body weight, smoking, some medications, and family history. The disease develops over time as bones become thin, lose structure, and become fragile. As bones weaken, simple activities, such as lifting a grocery bag, may lead to falls, bumps, and even fractures. While the pain from the broken bone may go away over time, patients may also suffer from chronic pain, too.

A doctor can’t tell you if you have osteoporosis just by looking at you. Some people may get a bit shorter over time or develop a hump on their back. One tool some doctors use is a bone density test, which provides an inside look at the health of your bones. During the test, a series of x-rays are taken to measure how much calcium and other important minerals are packed into different bones. The most common areas checked are the spine, hip and forearm.

If you’re worried about osteoporosis or already have it, there are several steps to stop bone loss:

Get regular exercise. Weight- bearing exercise such as walking or lifting some light weights, can help strengthen your bones.

  • Eat a calcium-rich diet. Calcium helps strengthen bones so try to get at least 1,000 milligrams daily of calcium (or 1,200 milligrams if you’re past menopause). If you’re not getting that through your regular diet, check with your doctor about adding a supplement to your daily diet.

  • Get enough Vitamin D. This vitamin, which you can get through sunlight, helps bones absorb calcium. Besides the sun, you can also get Vitamin D through certain foods including eggs, fatty fish like salmon, and Vitamin D fortified milk. Again, if your diet doesn’t have enough Vitamin D in it, you may need a supplement so check with your medical provider.

  • Kick the smoking habit. Besides all of the other bad things smoking does to your body, it also weakens your bones. Consider this another reason to quit if you haven’t already.

  • Take prescription medications to help with bone loss. Your physician may prescribe one based on your health and family history.

By taking the right steps, you can do a lot to decrease the severity of osteoporosis or prevent it from developing in the first place.

Scott Schuldes is a certified family nurse practitioner and associate medical director at ThedaCare Physicians-Hilbert. He can be reached at scott.schuldes@thedacare.org.