Osteoporosis management for all ages

Why should most women over the age of 30 care about their bone health? Your bone health peaks around age 30, then starts to deteriorate. You should also care because osteoporosis is a “silent disease” that sneaks up on you, especially after menopause. Bone loss occurs without many symptoms, until you suddenly become so weak that you fall, collapse or break a bone.

Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones, increasing the risk of sudden and unexpected fractures. Meaning “porous bone,” it results in an increased loss of bone mass and strength.

“Unfortunately, once you have an osteoporotic fracture, most likely in your back or hip, you are at high risk of having another,” said Kathryn Diemer, MD, a Washington University bone density specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “These fractures can be debilitating. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent osteoporosis from ever occurring. Treatments can also slow the rate of bone loss.”

Your bones are made of living, growing tissue. When a bone is weakened by osteoporosis, the “holes” in the “sponge” grow larger and more numerous, weakening the structure of the bone.

Until about age 30, a person normally builds more bone than he or she loses. After age 35, bone breakdown outpaces bone buildup, resulting in a gradual loss of bone mass. Once this loss of bone reaches a certain point, a person has osteoporosis.

The decrease in estrogen after menopause and increase in osteoporosis are directly related. After menopause, bone deterioration outpaces the building of new bone. Early menopause (before age 45) and any prolonged periods in which hormone levels are low and menstrual periods are absent or infrequent can cause loss of bone mass.

Important risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Age. Your bone health peaks at age 30.
  • Gender. Women older than 50 have the greatest risk for developing osteoporosis.
  • Race. Caucasian and Asian women are more likely to develop osteoporosis.
  • Bone structure and body weight. Petite and thin women have a greater risk of developing osteoporosis because they have less bone to lose than women with more body weight and larger frames. Similarly, small-boned, thin men are at greater risk than men with larger frames and more body weight.
  • Family history. Heredity is one of the most important risk factors for osteoporosis. If your parents or grandparents have had any signs of osteoporosis, such as a fractured hip after a minor fall, you may be at greater risk of developing the disease.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers and smokers.

The Bone Health Program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University treats conditions like osteoporosis and helps patients recover from and prevent future falls.

“The patients I see are those who are not responding to the usual treatments, such as medications,” said Dr. Diemer. “We try to figure out why someone is not responding to oral medications, which might not be absorbing well. We also focus on educating patients on the importance of eating right and exercising, regardless of age.”

Dr. Diemer said most people know dairy products offer calcium, but many do not know that green vegetables such as kale and broccoli can also provide significant calcium to help reach 1,000 mg each day.

“Vitamin D is also important, and most of the time, you probably need over-the-counter supplements to reach 1,000 units per day,” Dr. Deimer said. “As we get older, our skin doesn’t make vitamin D as well so I encourage my patients to take Vitamin D supplements.”

Dr. Diemer recommends all women 65 years or older and all men 70 years or older get a bone density test.

If you would like to discuss osteoporosis prevention, call 314-TOP-DOCS to make an appointment with a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician. The team at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Orthopedic Center can discuss non-surgical treatments and/or prevention. If you know someone who has been diagnosed with osteoporosis, the Bone Health Program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University can help. To make an appointment, please call 314-454-7775.

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Category: Orthopedics

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Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University Medical Center is the largest hospital in Missouri and the largest private employer in the St. Louis region. An affiliated teaching hospital of Washington University School of Medicine, Barnes-Jewish Hospital has a 1,800 member medical staff with many who are recognized as "Best Doctors in America." They are supported by residents, interns and fellows, in addition to nurses, technicians and other health-care professionals.

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