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Senior Citizen's Guide to Connecticut

Risk and Detection

Osteoporosis is a disease in which a gradual loss of calcium causes bones to become weak, brittle and more likely to break, especially from a fall. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), 10 million Americans already have the disease, and an additional 34 million are at risk of developing the disease due to low bone mass. he condition is so prevalent that one in two women and one in four men over the age of 50 will experience a fracture due to osteoporosis. These fractures most commonly occur in the hip, spine and wrist, and can be permanently disabling. Hip fractures are especially dangerous. Because such fractures tend to occur at older ages in men than in women, men who sustain hip fractures are more likely than women to die from complications, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. steoporosis occurs most commonly in Caucasian women over the age of 50, but significant risk has been identified in people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. Women are particularly susceptible to osteoporosis because they can lose up to 20 percent of their bone density in the five to seven years after menopause due to decreases in the sex hormone estrogen.

While women are at a greater risk for osteoporosis (nearly 80 percent of those affected are female), it is not only a women’s disease—men also lose bone density as they age. According to the NOF, at least two million men currently have osteoporosis and millions more could be at risk. In fact, men older than 50 are more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than they are to develop prostate cancer and each year, about 80,000 men will suffer a hip fracture.

Many factors increase the risk of osteoporosis in both men and women of all ages, including advanced age, lifestyle choices, certain diseases and even medications. Specifically, there are several factors that put a person at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis, including: family and personal history of osteoporosis or broken bones, a small frame or thin build, physical inactivity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and low levels of sex hormones such as estrogen in women and testosterone in men.

Additionally, a poor diet can increase the risk of osteoporosis, especially diets low in calcium and vitamin D and high in protein, sodium and caffeine. Also at risk are people taking certain medications for long-term chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid problems and seizures.

Osteoporosis is commonly called a “silent disease” because there are typically no symptoms or pain associated with the weakening bones. Often, a person may not even know they have the disease until they break a bone. Fortunately, there is a painless way to test for the disease and determine risk of developing osteoporosis.

The NOF recommends a bone mineral density (BMD) test of the hip and spine to diagnose osteoporosis. A BMD test is the best way to determine bone health; it can identify osteoporosis, determine risk for fractures and measure response to osteoporosis treatments. The most widely recognized BMD test is a DEXA scan, which stands for dual energy X-Ray absorptiometry.

A DEXA scan can:

The DEXA technology is the gold standard in assessing bone density. It can identify bone loss before outward symptoms appear, allowing for early detection, treatment and prevention of further bone loss. A DEXA exam is painless, takes about 15 to 30 minutes, requires no prior preparation and the patient remains fully clothed. The bone density scan is covered by most insurance plans and Medicare.

The NOF recommends BMD testing for all men age 50 to 70 with one or more risk factors for osteoporosis and for men age 70 or older, even without any risk factors. Screening is recommended for women age 65 and older; those age 60 to 64 with risk factors for osteoporosis and women over 45 who have broken any bones should also get tested.

In the meantime, take steps to maintain bone health. Keep bones strong and slow bone loss by eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, exercising frequently (including weight-bearing exercises), and avoiding excessive drinking and smoking. Though osteoporosis is not curable, it is both a preventable and treatable disease. Your primary care provider can provide a thorough exam and review of your medical history and individual risk factors to determine if a DEXA scan is right for you.

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