Unseen threat: Osteoporosis impacts 10 million Americans

Osteoporosis is a condition that thins and damages bones, making them more likely to break.

It afflicts about 10 million people in the United States age 50 and older, and four times more women than men, says the Osteoporosis Workgroup, a panel of experts in the Department of Health and Human Services that concentrates on improving screenings and treatment to reduce the prevalence of the ailment [1].

Osteoporosis is considered a “silent” disease because people usually have no symptoms – people don’t feel their bones getting weaker and do not realize they have the disease until they unexpectedly break a bone, such as a minor fall, lifting something or simply coughing [2].

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about 2 million broken bones can be attributed to osteoporosis annually [3]. In addition to those with osteoporosis, about 43 million people have a similar but less severe condition called osteopenia [4]. 

Their bones have a lower-than-desired volume of minerals (mainly calcium and phosphorous), creating a lower density than usual but insufficient to cause an easy fracture. But the condition can progress to osteoporosis.

A bone density scan, a low-dose X-ray that measures the minerals in a person’s bones, can help evaluate bones’ strength and thickness. Women are urged to have this test starting at age 65, but no age has been established for men. 

Although the body constantly renews the content of bones, that process normally slows with age [5].

But to keep bones strong and avoid the potential consequences of weak bones, health experts suggest a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, not smoking and regularly doing weight-bearing exercise (like walking, jogging or stair climbing), and exercises to strengthen muscles and improve balance. In some cases, medication is prescribed to slow the rate of bone loss and rebuild bone strength.

In conclusion, early detection through bone density scans, coupled with a proactive approach to maintaining bone health, can help mitigate the risks associated with osteoporosis and prevent debilitating fractures. 

By incorporating a combination of proper nutrition, exercise, and medical interventions when necessary, individuals can strive to preserve the strength and resilience of their bones, leading to a healthier and more active lifestyle [7].

[1] https://health.gov/healthypeople/about/workgroups/osteoporosis-workgroup
[2] https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/bone-health-and-osteoporosis#c
[3] https://www.bonehealthandosteoporosis.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Osteoporosis-Fast-Facts.pdf
[4] https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/osteopenia-when-you-have-weak-bones-but-not-osteoporosis
[5] https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/healthy-bones-at-every-age/
[6] https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/osteoporosis-drugs-which-one-is-right-for-you
[7] https://www.washingtonpost.com/wellness/2023/06/05/osteoporosis-bone-health-silent-disease/

Photograph: jsanz_photo/Envato
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