May is National Osteoporosis Month. Take steps now to improve bone health for yourself and your family.
In 2004, the Surgeon General declared osteoporosis to be epidemic in the United States, affecting 4.5 million women over the age of 50 nationwide. In Georgia, osteoporosis causes 75 fractures every day and costs $1 million per day in medical expenses.
The first sign of osteoporosis is often a fracture. Sometimes the fracture is caused by trauma, such as a fall. However, when the disease is severe, the bone becomes so fragile it breaks and causes the fall. Osteoporosis is called a “silent disease” because frequently, there are no early symptoms.
The Georgia Commission on Women launched the Georgia Osteoporosis Initiative to raise awareness about osteoporosis and to encourage women to be tested and learn about their individual risk. Bone density screening is the test most often used to diagnose osteoporosis and monitor treatment.
Women most at risk for osteoporosis are those who have low body weight, smoke, or take steroid medications. Early menopause, cessation of menses before the age of 40, is a major risk factor because the levels of estrogen, a bone-protecting hormone, decline. A family history that includes fractures, particularly of the hip, is also a factor.
Here are eight steps you can take to prevent osteoporosis:
1. Do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. Weight bearing exercise in particular strengthens bone. Walk with a friend. Work in the garden. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
2. Strength and balance training will help strengthen your muscles and prevent falls. Convince a friend to try a yoga or a T’ai Chi class with you. Both are fantastic ways to tone muscles and improve balance.
3. Protect yourself from falls. Install handrails on stairs and grab bars in the bathtub. Make sure all rugs have skid proof backing. Get rid of clutter, and ensure you have proper lighting in all areas of your home—including a night light in the bathroom. If your doctor recommends a cane or walker, use it.
4. Schedule a regular eye exam to check for problems that might affect visual acuity.
5. If you have a fracture during middle age, ask your health care provider to order a bone density test.
6. If you are 65 or older, bone density testing should be done to determine a baseline bone status.
7. Get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Eat dairy products and green vegetables such as broccoli. Ask to have a Vitamin D blood level done and take supplements as recommended by your health care provider.
8. If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, take your medications as ordered to prevent further bone loss.
Osteoporosis is preventable, but you must start now. Maximum bone density is reached by the age of 30, so prevention must begin early. Encourage your daughters and granddaughters from the time of birth to make deposits in their bone density bank by exercising and eating a balanced diet with plenty of calcium and vitamin D.
Ask to be screened if your health provider does not suggest this test. The sooner osteoporosis is detected, the better the treatment outcomes will be. Many medications are now available to help prevent further bone loss.
Sharon Baker is a member of the Georgia Commission on Women. She is a Nurse Practitioner and expert on women’s health and osteoporosis. She lives in Rome, GA.