AMARILLO An easily broken bone or noticeable decline in height could be signs of osteoporosis, said a Texas Cooperative Extension specialist.
The risk of osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones, increases as both men and women get older, said Andrew B. Crocker, Extension program specialist for gerontology health.
“Because there are no real outward symptoms of osteoporosis, you may not notice any changes until a bone breaks,” Crocker said.
“But, your bones have been losing strength for many years,” he said, adding millions of Americans, mostly Caucasian and Asian women, have osteoporosis.
Bone is living tissue, Crocker said. To keep bones strong, the body constantly replaces older bone tissue with new. As people age, more bone is broken down than is replaced.
To diagnose osteoporosis, a health provider may recommend a bone mineral density test, he said. The test will help determine the risk for fractures and measure response to treatment.
The inside of bone looks something like a honeycomb, Crocker said. With osteoporosis, the spaces in this honeycomb grow larger; the bone forming the honeycomb gets smaller; and the outer shell of the bone gets thinner.
“All this loss makes your bones weaker,” he said.
The most widely recognized bone mineral density test is called a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scan or DEXA-scan, he said. This painless procedure is like having an X-ray.
Bone mass measurement tests are covered once every 24 months under Medicare Part “B,” Crocker said.
“If your health provider determines you are at high risk or that it is medically necessary, Medicare may pay for screenings more often,” he said.
Treating osteoporosis means stopping the bone loss and rebuilding bone to prevent breaks, Crocker said.
“Diet and exercise can help make your bones stronger, but they may not be enough if you have lost a lot of bone density,” he said. “There are several medications which you may take to help lessen your risk of developing osteoporosis or lessen its effects. Some will slow your bone loss, and others can help rebuild bone.”
Individuals with osteoporosis should be aware of any physical changes that affect their balance or gait and these should be discussed with their health provider, he said.
Preventing falls is a special concern, Crocker said. Falls can increase the likelihood of fracturing a bone anywhere in the skeleton, but especially in the hip, wrist or spine.
Falls can be caused by impaired vision and/or balance, chronic diseases that affect mental or physical functioning and certain medications, such as sedatives and antidepressants.
For more information on preventing falls, visit Extension’s Fall Prevention Web site: http://fcs.tamu.edu/families/aging/fall_prevention/ .
While osteoporosis may not start until later in life, prevention shouldn’t wait, Crocker said.
Here are some things to do throughout life to prevent weakened bones:
– Get enough dietary calcium to help build and keep strong bones. Foods high in calcium include low-fat dairy foods and dark green leafy vegetables, and calcium-fortified foods such as orange juice, breads and cereals. Under some circumstances, a health provider may recommend a calcium supplement.
– Vitamin D is used to absorb calcium in the body. Most people can absorb enough vitamin D from sunlight if they are outdoors for a total of 20 minutes every day. Vitamin D also comes from eggs, fatty fish and cereal and vitamin D-fortified milk. As with calcium, be careful, because too much Vitamin D may cause harmful side-effects.
– Exercise makes bones and muscles stronger. Weight-bearing exercises, done three to four times a week, are best for preventing osteoporosis. Walking, jogging, playing tennis and dancing are good weight-bearing exercises. Strengthening and balance exercises may also help prevent falls.
– Some common medicines can make bones weaker, including some steroid drugs, anti-seizure drugs, sleeping pills and cancer drugs. An overactive thyroid gland or using too much thyroid hormone for an underactive thyroid can also be a problem. Talk to a health provider about what to do to help protect bones when taking these medicines.
– Some lifestyle choices also make a person more susceptible. Smoking increases loss of bone mass, and alcohol can put a person at risk for falling and breaking a bone.
For more information on osteoporosis, visit the National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases Web site: http://www.niams.nih.gov/bone/