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Osteoporosis: What is it and how do I treat it?

Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by decreased bone mass resulting in fragile bones and increased fractures. It typically affects post-menopausal females and those with a petite body frame are at an increased risk. Men are susceptible to osteoporosis as well but not nearly as widespread as women. Osteopenia is a condition of decreased bone mass that is not as severe as osteoporosis but needs to be addressed by your primary care provider.

How do I know I have osteoporosis?

Individuals at risk of developing osteoporosis are those of Caucasian and Asian ethnicity, history of smoking and/or alcohol use, history of corticosteroid use, and individuals with little physical activity. Unless you have a fall and fracture a bone (most commonly wrist, vertebrae, and hip are affected), osteoporosis has few symptoms. Some individuals may start to develop kyphosis or a curvature of the spine in the back which can indicate some undetected fractures of the spine.

How is osteoporosis diagnosed?

Generally, this disorder is diagnosed by doing a bone mineral density scan (BMD). These tests measure the density of the bones at the spine and the hip and compares your values to those of a normal individual of the same age. Depending on how different your density is from normal shows whether you have osteopenia (mild decrease in bone mass) or osteoporosis (more severe decrease in bone mass). Generally, BMD tests are done on postmenopausal women over age 65 every 2 years. Individuals who are younger than 65 but have had a fracture need to be tested as well.

How do I treat it?

Traditionally, osteoporosis is treated with medications called bisphosphonates. These medications reduce bone resorption and are taken on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Bisphosphonates must be taken on an empty stomach and you should not lie down or eat for 30 minutes after taking the medication. Another type of medication is estrogen therapy but has not been proven as effective as bisphosphonates. There is now a once yearly injectable medication available for treatment of osteoporosis as well.

All women should consider taking calcium with vitamin D daily to help prevent the onset of osteoporosis. After menopause, bone density decreases 1% to 2% annually so make sure you start with strong, healthy bones at a young age. Peak bone mass is reached in the late 20s and early 30s so young women should make sure to have plenty of calcium and vitamin D intake daily to promote the growth of healthy bones. This can be done through diet or vitamin therapy. If you have questions or feel that you may need to be tested for osteoporosis, visit with your primary care provider today.

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