When most of us think of the “brittle bone disease” known as osteoporosis, we picture a frail old woman with a broken hip or sagging shoulders.
However, we cannot tell if someone has osteoporosis just by looking at their face. Doctors should look at your personal and family history and habits, and have a bone mineral density test done to determine your personal risk.
Osteoporosis occurs when our body doesn’t build new bone as quickly as it sheds old. Bones become weak and brittle and break more often.
Some fractures result from a big fall, while others can result from seemingly innocuous things like a hug or a bend. Fractures due to osteoporosis most commonly occur in the spine and hip.
What increases the risk of osteoporosis?
* Premature menopause and no estrogen supplement
* Family history of hip fracture or osteoporosis
* History of anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder, or low body weight
* Hormone therapy for prostate cancer
* Older age
* Old broken bones
* Rheumatoid arthritis, some digestive diseases and some other diseases
* Long-term use of steroid medication (for asthma or other medical conditions)
* Three or more alcoholic beverages per day
If an elderly woman or man has a fracture, we need to check if they have low bone mass or osteoporosis. This is the biggest warning sign that more fractures may follow.
When is a bone mineral density test required?
A bone mineral density test can diagnose osteoporosis before a bone fracture occurs. Experts recommend testing in:
* all women aged 65 and over
* younger women who have risk factors for osteoporosis
* Men aged 70 and over
* Men aged 50-69 with risk factors for osteoporosis
Some doctors use the FRAX (Fracture Risk Assessment Tool) formula to estimate the likelihood of a bone fracture within the next 10 years. The test takes into account previous fractures, gender, smoking, alcohol consumption, and sometimes the results of bone mineral density tests in the hip, among other things.
As people age, they lose bone mass and this puts everyone at risk of fractures. Many people think that osteoporosis is an inevitable consequence of aging, but this is wrong. Protect yourself and your bones. Follow a healthy lifestyle. Get enough calcium and vitamin D, exercise regularly, smoke and drink in moderation (or not at all…) and don’t forget to have your bone density tested.