Osteoporosis, the Silent Disease

By: Dr. Carlos Isales, MCG Health System
By: Dr. Carlos Isales, MCG Health System

Augusta, Ga. -- Did you know that osteoporosis is a major health threat for more than 28 million Americans? In the U.S. alone, approximately 8 million women and 2 million men already have osteoporosis, and more than 18 million may develop it. Known as the silent disease because it has no visible symptoms, osteoporosis causes bones to become thinner, weaker and more brittle, with hips and spine particularly vulnerable.

Are you at risk? Risk factors include:

  • Age. You are older than 50.
  • Ethnicity. You are Caucasian or Asian.
  • Small bone structure.
  • Family history. You have parents or siblings with the disease.
  • Estrogen or testosterone deficiency.
  • Anorexia.
  • Smoking or alcohol abuse.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D deficiency.
  • Inadequate exercise.
  • Prolonged use of certain medications such as corticosteroids, which are used to treat asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

Certain tests are available to help those at risk determine if they do have osteoporosis. Specialized bone density tests can measure the bone density in your spine, hip, wrist, middle finger, heel or shinbone and enable your physician to identify where you stand within the ranges of normal. With this information combined with a complete medical workup, you and your physician can decide what prevention and/or treatment steps are right for you.

Even if you are at risk, you can prevent osteoporosis. By making a concerted effort at the following lifestyle choices, you will minimize your risks for developing this disease.

  • Change unhealthy habits. For example, quit smoking, reduce alcohol consumption and start an exercise program that includes weight-bearing and resistance exercises.
  • Consume an adequate amount of calcium. For men, take 1,000 milligrams per day up to age 50 and 1,200 milligrams per day if you are 51 or older. For women, take 1,200 milligrams per day up to age 50 and 1,500 milligrams per day if you are 51 or older.
  • Get enough vitamin D. In national studies, more than 50 percent of postmenopausal women were found to be Vitamin D deficient. Milk and other Vitamin-D rich foods, as well as vitamin supplements, are excellent sources. In addition, only fifteen minutes of sunlight up to three times a week is all you need for your body to produce an appropriate amount of Vitamin D.
  • Most important, make sure you see your physician for regular physical exams and talk with him or her about your risk for osteoporosis.

Even if you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, it's not too late to take the above steps to help further protect your bone health. There are also medications that can be prescribed to help reduce bone loss, so talk with your doctor. Most importantly, in order to prevent a fracture, eliminate hazards in the house that can increase your risk of falling.

Osteoporosis is silent because many don't know they have the disease until they fall and experience a fractured hip or back. By learning your risk and how to reduce it, you can help prevent further bone loss and protect yourself from this often devastating disease.

MCG Health System is composed of three separate organizations -- MCG Health, Inc. and the clinical services offered by the faculty employees of the Medical College of Georgia and the members of the MCG Physicians Practice Group Foundation. The physicians of MCG Health System are community physicians, faculty employees of the Medical College of Georgia, or employees of the MCG Physicians Practice Group Foundation, not employees of MCG Health, Inc. MCG Health, Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation operating the MCG Medical Center, MCG Children's Medical Center, the MCG Sports Medicine Center, MCG Ambulatory Care Center, the Georgia Radiation Therapy Center and related clinical facilities and services. MCG Health, Inc. was formed to support the research and education mission of the Medical College of Georgia and to build the economic growth of the CSRA, the state of Georgia and the Southeast by providing an environment for faculty employees of the Medical College of Georgia and the MCG Physicians Practice Group Foundation and community physicians to deliver the highest level of primary and specialty health care. For more information, please visit www.MCGHealth.org.

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