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Published on June 20, 2016

No bones about it: Making sense of osteoporosis and osteopenia

This illustration shows healthy, strong bone tissue, at left, compared to bone tissue that has weakened and lost density.

This illustration shows healthy, strong bone tissue, at left, compared to bone tissue that has weakened and lost density.

By Aynsley Anderson Sosinski, RN | Lawrence Memorial Hospital

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that 54 million people in the United States have either the disease osteoporosis or low bone mass, also known as osteopenia, which if left untreated could go on to become osteoporosis.

Aynsley Anderson, MA, RN Mayo Certified Wellness Coach

Aynsley Anderson, MA, RN

Mayo Certified Wellness Coach

Osteoporosis is a debilitating disease leading to fragile bones that can easily fracture. The bones most commonly affected are those of the spine, hip and wrist. In someone with significant osteoporosis, even a mild stress such as a sneeze can potentially cause a bone fracture.

Osteopenia and osteoporosis and what you can do to prevent these conditions will be the topic of a free Wellness Friday presentation at 9:30 a.m. July 8 at the Lawrence Memorial Hospital Performance and Wellness Center at Sports Pavilion Lawrence, 100 Rock Chalk Lane. No advance registration is needed; just drop by to learn more.

About 85 percent of our bone mass is formed by age 18 to 20, but some continuation of thickening and widening occurs until late 20s or early 30s. Lifetime peak bone density is thought to be reached at about age 30.

It is key that parents encourage the building of a strong bone density platform in their children and adolescents, since little bone density growth occurs after the late teens. Studies show that many girls and young women consume less than half the recommended daily amount of calcium, one of the keys to building strong bones.

The higher the peak bone mass built in early life, the more bone density one has in the bank for “down the road,” when with aging, some bone loss inevitably occurs. Unless steps are taken to minimize this bone loss, women recently post-menopausal are especially at risk. This is due to decreased estrogen production, as that hormone is thought to be bone density protective.

Other risk factors for osteoporosis include: Caucasian or Asian race; a slender or smaller frame; a family history of osteoporosis particularly in a parent or sibling; smoking; history of disordered eating; taking certain medications, typically for long periods; some cancer and other medical treatments; a low calcium intake, particularly in childhood or adolescence; excess caffeine, soda or alcohol consumption; and leading a sedentary lifestyle.

Osteoporosis is a “silent” disease, meaning it usually has no symptoms in the early stages. Once bones have weakened, signs or symptoms that may occur include back pain, loss of height that sometimes leading to the characteristic “dowager’s hump” and fractures.

Osteoporosis can affect both men and women, with women being more affected. It is thought that one-half of women and one-quarter of men over 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetimes. With increasing age, recovery from a bone fracture can take longer and many never recover, or if they do, cannot live independently again.

Steps to better bone health

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends these steps for bone health and osteoporosis prevention.

• Get the recommended daily amount of calcium and vitamin D for age and gender. Vitamin D helps calcium absorb into the bone and is available through sun exposure, fortified foods and beverages or a supplement.

• Engage in regular weight bearing, strength training, and balance activities and exercises. Balance exercises such as tai chi can help prevent falls and thus bone fractures. LMH Therapy Services offers four levels of Tai Chi for Balance classes at the LMH Performance and Wellness Center. Call 785-505-5840 for more information.

• Avoid smoking or using excessive alcohol.

• Have a conversation with your healthcare provider about bone health and what measures you personally should take to prevent or treat osteopenia or osteoporosis.

• Have a bone density test as recommended by your healthcare provider and take any supplements or medications prescribed to prevent or treat the disease.

Lawrence Memorial Hospital offers two types of testing for osteoporosis and its risk. A bone mineral density test, often called a DXA scan, can detect whether an individual has osteopenia or osteoporosis, and also predict the risk of having a bone fracture. This testing, which requires a physician referral, is the gold standard diagnostic test for osteoporosis. Talk with your healthcare provider as to whether and when this test might be advised for you. Also investigate from your insurance provider if this test is covered.

A second option is a heel screening, available for $15. This screening is not covered by insurance as it is not considered a diagnostic test. Appointments can be made for designated times by calling 785-505-3066.

— Aynsley Anderson Sosinski, MA, RN, is community education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, a major sponsor of WellCommons. She is a Mayo Clinic Certified Wellness Coach. She can be reached at aynsley.anderson@lmh.org.

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