Sunday, January 06, 2008

Osteoporosis: Not Just a Women's Disease

Oseteoporosis is a disease in which the bones become weak and can break easily. Often people don't know that they have osteporosis until a bone actually breaks or fractures. Any bone can be affected by osteoporosis, but the most common bones that break are in the hip, back, and wrist. The condition is quite serious because fractures can lead to pain, hospitalizations, surgery, disability, and even death.

Bones are made up mostly of proteins and minerals. Two minerals that are especially important in bone are calcium and phosphorus. Bones are living tissues and old bone cells are always being replaced by new ones. There are special cells that build up new bone (osteoblasts) while other cells (osteoclasts) break down old bone. As people get older, their bodies don't replace all the
bone that has been broken down, and bones tend to become more porous, weaker and more likely to break.

Osteoporosis is not just a woman’s disease. Not as many men have it as women do, but men need to worry about it as well. This may be because most men start with more bone density than women and lose it more slowly as they grow older. Millions of Americans have osteoporosis.They are mostly women, but more than 2 million men also have this disease. White and Asian women are most likely to have osteoporosis.

Other women at great risk include those who:
✦ have a family history of the disease,
✦ have broken a bone while an adult,
✦ had surgery to remove their ovaries before their periods stopped,
✦ had early menopause,
✦ have not gotten enough calcium throughout their lives,
✦ had extended bed rest
✦ used certain medicines for a long time, or
✦ have a small body frame

Experts don’t know as much about this disease in men as they do in women. However, many of the things that put men at risk are the same as those for women:
✦ family history
✦ not enough calcium or vitamin D
✦ too little exercise
✦ low levels of testosterone
✦ too much alcohol
✦ taking certain drugs
✦ smoking

It is best to prevent osteoporosis before it starts, and there are many steps that everyone can take to decrease the risk of bone loss. If your loved one is at high risk of osteoporosis or is already experiencing bone loss, talk to the doctor about testing and treatments. The test used to diagnose osteoporosis is called a bone density test. This test is a measure of how strong -- or dense -- bones are and can help your doctor predict risk for having a fracture. Bone density tests are painless, safe, and requires no preparation. Bone density tests compare bone density to the bones of an average healthy young adult. The test result, known as a T-score, tells how strong the bones are, whether a person has osteoporosis or osteopenia -- low bone mass -- and risk for having a fracture. Some people may be unaware that they have already experienced one or more spine fractures. Height loss of one inch or more may be the first sign that someone has experienced spine fractures due to osteoporosis. Multiple spine fractures can cause a curved spine, stooped posture, back pain, and back fatigue.
The goal of treatment is to prevent fractures. A balanced diet rich in calcium, adequate vitamin D, a regular exercise program, and fall prevention are all important for maintaining bone health. There are medications that can slow the rate of bone loss and even help rebuild bone. Several medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of osteo-porosis. Since all medications have side effects, it is important to talk to the doctor about which medication is right for your loved one.

When bones are weak, a simple fall can cause a broken bone. This can mean a trip to the hospital and maybe surgery. It might also mean being laid up for a long time, especially in the case of a hip fracture. So, it is important to prevent falls.
Some things you can do are:
✦ Make sure your loved one can see and hear well. Encourage them to sse glasses or a hearing aid if needed.
✦ Ask the doctor if any of the drugs he or she is taking can make him or her dizzy or unsteady on their feet.
✦ Encourage your loved one to use a cane or walker if walking is unsteady. A physical therapist can make recommendations for the most appropriate walking device and train your loved one to use it properly.
✦ Wear rubber-soled and lowheeled shoes.
✦ Make sure all the rugs and carpeting in the house are firmly attached to the floor, or don’t use them.
✦ Keep the rooms of the home well lit and the floor free of clutter.
✦ Use nightlights.