Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones, making them thin and porous. It’s caused by the body breaking down bone faster than it builds it. When the bones are weak, they’re more likely to break from a minor trip and fall, and this is often the first sign of osteoporosis. There are no other symptoms. These fragility fractures are most common in the hip, spine and wrist. It’s important to get it diagnosed, because 90% of people with one fracture from the disease will go on to have another.
Fractures of the spine are called compression fractures. These happen when the weight of the body is more than the vertebra bones can support. When someone with osteoporosis breaks a hip, they can lose the ability to walk, lose their independence, and a quarter will die within the same year.
Osteoporosis is very common (1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men). Most often, it affects women who have gone through menopause or have had a hysterectomy. However, osteoporosis can affect men as well. Other risk factors include smoking, drinking alcohol, lack of exercise, steroid use, low calcium or vitamin D diet, hip fracture in a parent, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
Anyone who’s had a fragility fracture or the above risk factors at age 50 should get screened. Women should be checked at age 65, and men at 70. The screening, called a DEXA, is a painless X-ray that measures bone density. This should be done every two years. At the Roper St. Francis Osteoporosis clinic, we also order blood tests to make sure that your body has the building blocks to make healthy bone, like calcium and Vitamin D.
There are several medications for osteoporosis. Some medicines build new bone, while others keep the body from breaking down bone.
People with osteoporosis should eat foods that are high in calcium and vitamin D. Exercising 150 minutes a week can also help build strong bones. Smoking and excessive alcohol can make the bones weaker, so it is important to avoid this. Also, reduce the risk of falling by making sure that walkways are free of clutter and well lit. Getting your eyes checked and wearing sturdy and well-fitting shoes can also reduce the risk of falling.
If you are interested in being screened for osteoporosis, please contact the Roper St. Francis Osteoporosis Clinic at (843) 763-2320.
By Katy Blair Conner, MS, MSPAS, PA-C, Certified Fracture Liaison, Roper St. Francis Osteoporosis Clinic