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Osteoporosis -- Are You at Risk?

Your hip bone connected to your back bone, your back bone connected to your shoulder bone... dem bones gonna dance around... or so the gospel spiritual goes, based on the biblical story of Ezekiel, who walked into a valley of dead, dry bones and brought them back to life.

These days, for millions of women with the disease osteoporosis—literally meaning porous bones—superior medical treatments can also bring their bones back to life.

An estimated 10 million Americans aged 50 and older currently have osteoporosis, an illness in which their bones are thin, weak and more likely to break. Another 34 million have a preliminary condition called osteopenia (low bone mass), which puts them at increased risk for developing osteoporosis. Eight out of 10 people affected by osteoporosis are women, although the disease also occurs in men.

A chronic condition, osteoporosis presents a serious public health problem. Each year the disease is responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures of the hip, spine, wrist and other sites. One in two women over age 50 will incur an osteoporosis-related fracture in her lifetime, which can result in significant pain, loss of height and functional limitations. In fact, a woman’s risk of a hip fracture—a seriously immobilizing break linked with potentially severe secondary medical problems—is equivalent to her combined risk of developing breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.

Fractures resulting from osteoporosis can cause women to lose their ability to stand up, walk or perform basic activities like dressing themselves. Several studies indicate that the death rate in the year after hip fracture averages 25 percent. Another 25 percent of hip fracture patients require care in a nursing home or other institution for at least a year, and more than 50 percent report ongoing mobility problems.

Even without fracture, osteoporosis can affect self-esteem. Many women who develop osteoporosis-related kyphosis (curvature of the spine), height loss or other physical changes do not feel desirable. Emotional reactions like fear, anxiety and depression are not infrequent.


Bone is living, growing tissue that is constantly being broken down and replaced by new bone. In young people, bone is created faster than it is broken down, so bones increase in density and strength until somewhere around age 30. The process then gradually reverses and bone begins breaking down faster than it is replaced.

Several factors increase the risk for osteoporosis. In women, the rate of bone loss is most rapid in the first few years following menopause because the ovaries stop producing estrogen, a hormone that helps protect against bone loss. Men tend to develop osteoporosis somewhat later, but by their 60s have caught up to women in the rate of bone loss.
In addition, not getting enough calcium and vitamin D—even during the childhood and teen years—can contribute to osteoporosis, because if bones do not reach the highest possible peak bone mass during developmental years, osteoporosis is more likely to develop later. Other risk factors include a history of bone fracture as an adult, low body weight, a family history of osteoporosis, and long-term use of certain medications (e.g., steroids, anticonvulsants, aluminum-containing antacids and certain cancer treatments). Additionally, smoking and excessive alcohol use can accelerate bone loss, as can eating disorders, abnormal hormone levels, diabetes and chronic diseases of the kidneys, lungs, stomach or intestines.


Osteoporosis and low bone mass are preventable and treatable; therefore, it’s important for both men and women to understand all they can about caring for their bones. Consider the following suggestions for maintaining bone health:

1) Get adequate calcium and vitamin D. An adequate intake of calcium throughout life is important for maintaining bone strength. If you are age 50 or older, studies suggest you should have between 1,200 mg (for men) and 1,500 mg (for women) of calcium each day, along with 400-600 IU of vitamin D. Most people do not get this amount of calcium from diet alone, so supplements are frequently necessary. Your body can best handle about 500 mg of calcium at any one time, whether from food or supplements. Therefore, consume your calcium-rich foods and/or supplements in smaller doses throughout the day, preferably with a meal.

2) Take your osteoporosis medication as directed. Medicine can be a key factor in protecting bone health. Prescription medication is available that can build and maintain bone density and reduce the risk of fracture. But no medicine can work if you don’t take it. So fill your prescription, take it properly and continue taking it—as directed.

3) Exercise to build strength, flexibility and balance. Lack of exercise, especially as people get older, can contribute to lower bone mass or density. Two types of exercise are important for preventing and managing osteoporosis: a) weight-bearing exercise, like walking, stair climbing and dancing, and b) resistance exercise, like the use of free weights or weight machines. These exercises can help maintain bone health and prevent further bone loss. Exercise can also reduce the risk of falling by improving balance, flexibility and strength. One caution: it is important for people with osteoporosis to avoid certain types of exercise that can injure already weakened bones, so talk to your doctor about a safe, effective exercise program that best meets your needs.

4) Visit your doctor regularly. Work with your doctor to monitor your osteoporosis and bone mineral density (BMD), as well as your overall health. It’s important to evaluate the steps being taken to maintain the health of your bones and decide proactively what treatment is right for you.…Continued in ABILITY Magazine

National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases--National Resource Center


ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Sally Field issue include Letter from the Editor — Uncovering Addiction; Senator Harkin — Mental Health Parity; Headlines — IBM, Marriott, AssistiveWare, Turboset; Humor Therapy— A Volunteer’s Lament; George Covington — High-Desert Hijinks; Book Excerpt — Leave No Nurse Behind; Casting Your Ballot — Making Voting Accessible; Community Studio — Verizon’s Video-on-Demand; A Lesson from Mackenzie— I Love My Little Self; Universal Design — NC State Leads the Way; Recipes — No-Sin Appetizers; ;Events and Conferences...subscribe

More excerpts from the Sally Field issue:

Sally Field — Promoting Healthy Habits

Osteoporosis -- Are You at Risk?

Jonathan Kuniholm -- A New World of Prosthetics

Diane Schuur -- The Hot Lady of Cool Jazz

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome -- Learning to Cope

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