Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens our bones over time, and it affects both men and women. You may not know you have it until you break a bone. For this reason, bone health is a big issue, especially for older adults. According to Bermuda’s 2010 census report, the number of Bermudian seniors ― 65 and older ― increased by 29.17 percent in 10 years (from 2000 to 2010). This aging trend makes osteoporosis more of a public health issue because as we get older, we lose bone mass, and that puts us at a higher risk for fractures.
Start building bone when you are young.
Throughout our lives, we are constantly regenerating bone mass ― losing old bone and making new bone — but with age, we lose more bone than we build. Men reach their highest bone mass by age 30, while women reach it by age 25. From that age on, you slowly start losing bone mass. It is very important to do all you can to accrue as much bone mass as possible when you are young so when you start losing it as you age, you don’t get below the threshold where you have to worry about fractures.
A fracture is the equivalent of a heart attack for the skeleton.
Breaking a bone with little or no trauma is a sign that the skeleton is not normal. We need to treat the underlying problem, which in most cases is osteoporosis. For people over the age of 50, fractures can be devastating. Not only are they inconvenient, but they can also lead to premature death; those with hip fractures are especially at risk. Twenty-five percent of people that sustain a hip fracture will die within a year, and about 50 percent lose their ability to live independently. Men have a higher mortality rate than women after breaking a hip. Even spine fractures, like compression fractures of the vertebrae, can carry increased mortality, so it is crucial to understand what you can do to prevent fractures and bone loss.
Get screened for osteoporosis.
Even if you are healthy and do not have any medical issues, you should get screened for osteoporosis. The dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan is a reliable screening test that measures bone mineral density. This test is recommended for women over 65 and for men over 70. However, certain medical conditions and medications can be tough on the bones, making some people more at risk for fractures, and they should be screened earlier. For example, men and women who are on certain medications, like long-term steroids, or who suffer from other medical conditions that predispose them to osteoporosis should get a DXA scan by age 50.
Reduce your risk for fractures and bone loss.
The following recommendations are good bone health measures for when you are young and for when you are older and trying to maintain your bone mass:
• Live an active lifestyle. Weight-bearing exercise, like walking and jogging, is best for building bone. Bones are actually organs that can sense mechanical stress, so when you put weight on them, they tend to make more bone.
• Maintain good nutrition. Make sure you get enough calcium and protein in your diet.
• Get your vitamin D. Make sure you get enough exposure to sunlight or take supplements.
• Avoid smoking and limit your alcohol consumption. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol in excess can be toxic to your bones.
When diet and lifestyle changes are not enough to manage your osteoporosis, there are several effective treatment options and medications that can either help build bone mass or help reduce bone loss. And the good news is that they help reduce fractures about 50 percent.
Want to learn more about women’s health? Johns Hopkins Medicine International is hosting a breakfast briefing on women’s health. Delivered by Johns Hopkins physicians, A Woman’s Journey Bermuda takes place Saturday, May 14 at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, 9am-noon.
Content courtesy of Suzanne Jan de Beur, M.D., director of the Division of Endocrinology at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.