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Osteoporosis

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D E S C R I P T I O N

Osteoporosis is a progressive disease that affects the bones, with loss of bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue. The result is more brittle and fragile bones and an increased risk of fractures of the hip, spine, wrist and limbs. These fractures can be painful and debilitating enough to lead to death.

The disease can result from an inadequate accumulation of bone tissue during growth and maturation, excessive bone loss later in life, or both. Heredity and lifestyle factors both can play a role in the onset of osteoporosis. While osteoporosis is more common in women, 20 percent of its sufferers are men. Osteoporosis can strike younger men and women, but it is more prevalent in those who are in late middle age or older.


R I S K

Osteoporosis occurs earlier and in a more severe form in white and Asian women who are relatively thin and small-boned. It is more common among those who smoke and have sedentary lifestyles. Also at a higher risk are those who are deficient in vitamin D, calcium or magnesium; heavy meat eaters; and those who consume large amounts of alcohol. Risk increases with age because bones become less dense and weaker as a person grows older.

Certain medications can heighten the risk of osteoporosis. These include thyroid hormones, some anticonvulsants, antacids containing aluminum, glucocorticoids (prescribed for arthritis, asthma, lupus and many other diseases) and others.


S Y M P T O M S

Osteoporosis is often called "the silent disease" because a person doesn't feel anything as the bones gradually deteriorate. The first sign may be a collapsed vertebra or hip fracture following a fall or strain. Other warnings can be severe back pain, loss of height or stooped posture.


T R E A T M E N T

The treatment of osteoporosis focuses on proper nutrition, exercise and safety issues to prevent falls that could lead to fractures. Supplements of calcium, magnesium and vitamin D may be considered necessary by a physician. Medical treatment for postmenopausal women may include hormone replacement therapy with estrogen and progestin. Several new prescription drugs such as Miacalcin and Fosamax can slow or stop bone loss, increase bone density and reduce fracture risk.


P R E V E N T I O N

Your doctor may recommend a bone density test to measure bone mass and detect low density before a fracture occurs. This will determine whether you have osteoporosis, or are at risk for the disease. A baseline test repeated at intervals of a year or more can monitor your rate of bone loss as well as the results of treatment.

A healthy diet throughout life with an adequate supply of calcium is essential. Good sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products, dark-green leafy vegetables, sardines and salmon eaten with the bones, tofu, almonds and calcium-fortified foods such as orange juice, cereals and other grain products. A calcium supplement may be required, as well as vitamin D, which is necessary for the absorption of calcium.

Bone density is improved dramatically through regular exercise, especially weightlifting and weight-bearing activities such as walking. An active lifestyle at any age can improve one's quality of life and many other health factors. Improved balance and a reduced risk of falling are benefits of building muscle, even for people in their seventies, eighties and older.

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