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Osteoporosis—the silent disease
By Dr. Saba Habis
Published in The Joplin Globe Senior Outlook Aging Watch column
February 2011

Osteoporosis often catches people by surprise because they don’t feel their bones getting weaker nor it is painful. In fact, many people don’t know they have osteoporosis until they get a broken bone. For this reason, osteoporosis is called “the silent disease.” Osteoporosis, a disease characterized by abnormal bone loss, increases the risk of fractures, disability, and mortality. An estimated 10 million people in the United States suffer from osteoporosis.

Getting older is one of the strongest risk factors for osteoporosis. However, many other risk factors contribute to osteoporosis as well. These factors include an inactive lifestyle, low calcium and vitamin D intake, alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking, long-term use of certain drugs, extended bedrest, previous fractures, family history of fractures or osteoporosis, and low body weight. Postmenopausal women are especially at risk of developing osteoporosis because women’s bodies begin to produce less estrogen after menopause. Estrogen prohibits bone loss so lack of estrogen allows rapid bone loss leading to osteoporosis.

A specialized test called dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) measures bone density. Possible DEXA results are normal, decreased bone density (osteopenia), or severely decreased bone density (osteoporosis). The test can also predict your chances for having a fracture. Bone density testing is recommended for all women aged 65 years or older, all men 70 years or older, and even younger men and women with previous fractures or other risk factors.

Tips to keep your bones healthy and strong:

• Get nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D, which are important for bone health. Older adults need about 1,000 mg of supplemental calcium and at least 800 IU of vitamin D every day.
• Perform weight-bearing exercises, such as walking half an hour at least three times per week. Studies show exercise is linked to increased bone mass and muscle strength. To prevent injury while exercising, avoid high-impact exercises and exercises that require you to bend or twist your body forcefully.
• Refrain from smoking and heavy alcohol and soda drinking because both increase loss of bone mass. Consuming too much alcohol can also cause loss of coordination, which can lead to falling and possibly breaking a bone.
• Discuss with your doctor any height loss because it could be a sign of osteoporosis.

Don’t let osteoporosis catch you by surprise. Learn about this disease, exercise to maintain bone mass and strengthen your muscles, discuss with your doctor your risk factors for osteoporosis, and inquire if DEXA is appropriate for you. Remember, if you do have osteoporosis, there is a safe and effective treatment for it.

About the author
Saba Habis, MD, FACP, board-certified in internal medicine and geriatric medicine, received his medical degree from Damascus University and completed his internal medicine and geriatric medicine training at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, Peoria, Illinois. Dr. Habis serves as Clinical Associate Professor of Geriatrics, Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, Associate Director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program at Freeman Health System, and the Medical Director of Freeman Center for Geriatric Medicine, 931 East 32nd Street, Joplin, Missouri.