Your Bones Matter

Your Bones Matter

Broken bones hurt – a lot. Everybody knows that. Did you know broken bones kill people? Did you know some bones break from nothing more than a simple fall? Osteoporosis is a very common and very serious condition causing fragile bones that break easily. That means the bone will break from a minor injury that would not have broken a normal bone. Half of all women over age 50 and one in four men will suffer an osteoporotic fracture. It deserves your attention. Worse, osteoporosis will sneak up on you. As the bones weaken there is no pain or other symptom. Often the first sign of trouble is when the bone breaks.

The most devastating type of osteoporotic fracture is a broken hip.
One person in five suffering a hip fracture will die within a year. Of those who survive, more than half cannot perform their basic daily activities without assistance. One in five will remain in a nursing home long term. None are outcomes you want.

So, what can you do?
Prevention is best. Getting plenty of calcium, vitamin D and exercise in childhood helps achieve peak potential bone strength. That opportunity has passed for many of us. But you can share this with the young parents you know. Good prevention for any age includes: adequate calcium and vitamin D, plenty of exercise, not smoking, and avoiding excess alcohol. A very important fracture prevention tool is a DXA test, or bone density test. (Read more about our DXA testing here.) An experienced physician can combine information from the bone density of the hip, spine and wrist with information from the patient to predict the risk of future fracture. Following the bone density over time helps you see how your bones are doing. All this helps you plan your strategy to prevent fractures.

Should you be thinking about bone strength?
In addition to what is mentioned above, osteoporosis can be caused by normal aging, diseases and certain medications. Normal aging is probably most common. All women over age 65 and men over age 70 should consider having a DXA (bone density) test. Many women age 50 to 65 should consider this as well.

Vitamin D deficiency commonly contributes to osteoporosis.
Vitamin D is needed to build and preserve bone. Nearly everyone I have tested through the years has low vitamin D levels unless they are taking a vitamin D supplement. Older age and living in northern areas like Colorado makes it more likely you are deficient. Steroid medications like prednisone are notorious for causing osteoporosis. Anyone taking these medications over a long period should be thinking about their bone health.

If you have had a fracture without significant trauma, you may already have osteoporosis. Prior fracture predicts a high risk for future fracture.Falling from a standing height is a common event causing a fragile bone fracture. Preventing falls is effective at preventing broken bones. Simple things help - like removing tripping hazards from the home and having good lighting. Even if you have osteoporosis or a fragility fracture, there is still a lot you can do to prevent future fractures. Many effective treatments are available. Medications for osteoporosis, exercise, fall prevention and risk factor identification are all effective.

So much can be done to prevent suffering and death from this common disease.
At the Center for Bone Health, we have been screening for osteoporosis and following bone mineral density since 1999. We have worked with numerous physicians and prevented countless fractures. We see the benefits of screening every day. Don’t wait for a fracture, ask your doctor about osteoporosis. Think about your risk of fracture. Plan for prevention.

About the author:
James D. Hendrick, M.D. is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a Diplomat of the American Board of Internal Medicine. He is a Certified Clinical Densitometrist and serves as Medical Director of the Center for Bone Health in Fort Collins, CO.