Most people take their bones for granted, assuming they have strong, healthy bones that will support their active lifestyle. They’re blissfully unaware that all adults slowly but continuously lose bone. If they’re not careful, they end up with osteoporosis and a high risk for fractures.
Behnam Khaleghi, MD, and our team at Pacific Rheumatology Medical Center specialize in helping patients prevent osteoporosis and providing comprehensive care after the disease takes hold. Here, we explain what causes osteoporosis and three common misconceptions that raise your chances for weak bones.
How osteoporosis develops
Osteoporosis occurs when your bones lose density and mass, making them fragile, brittle, and easy to break. This condition develops due to:
- Natural age-related bone changes
- Lack of exercise
- Low calcium and vitamin D
- Long-term use of corticosteroids
- Certain medications
Your bones reach their maximum size and strength, called peak bone mass, between the ages of 25 and 30. Throughout your adult life, your body routinely repairs bones by eliminating old or damaged bone and replacing it with new bone.
But after 40, you lose bone faster than it’s replaced, an aging process that can lead to osteoporosis.
Misconception 1: Osteoporosis only affects women
While it’s true that women have a higher risk than men, osteoporosis affects both genders. Why are there differences between men and women? That’s explained by bone size and hormones.
Men’s bones are larger, allowing them to develop a higher peak bone mass that helps protect them from osteoporosis. In addition to having smaller bones, women face changes at menopause that dramatically increase their risk.
Estrogen promotes bone growth. When estrogen production stops at menopause, women start losing bone at a rapid pace.
Ultimately, 20% of women and 4% of men are diagnosed with osteoporosis. However, there’s no way to know how many people with osteoporosis go undiagnosed.
The more worrisome statistics tell us that at least 50% of women and 20% of men will suffer an osteoporotic fracture. Unfortunately, only one-third of women with an osteoporotic hip fracture will return to independent living.
Misconception 2: Osteoporosis can’t be prevented
You can take a few simple steps to prevent osteoporosis:
Engage in weight-bearing exercise
Weight-bearing exercises are essential because they trigger new bone production. You can choose from many high- and low-impact weight-bearing exercises, such as:
- Jumping rope
- Playing tennis
- Stair climbing
- Low- or high-impact aerobics
- Elliptical training machines
It’s also important to balance weight-bearing exercises with muscle-strengthening exercises.
Prevent nutritional deficiencies
Your body must have calcium and vitamin D to produce new bone cells. However, you also need a variety of nutrients to ensure strong bones. For example, bone production depends on a steady supply of vitamin C, magnesium, and protein.
At Rheumatology Medical Center, we specialize in medical-grade supplements that support your bone health and can recommend a nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory diet.
Take preventive steps for certain diseases
Be sure to take preventive steps if you take long-term corticosteroids or have a health condition that increases your risk for osteoporosis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, diabetes, thyroid disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Misconception 3: You can wait for warning signs
You can’t wait for warning signs to give you a clue that you need treatment for osteoporosis. Why? Because osteoporosis doesn’t cause signs or symptoms. If you don’t undergo screening, you’ll never know you have the disease — until you break a bone.
Osteoporosis makes bones so weak they break with very little force. A vigorous cough or falling from a standing position can lead to a fracture.
Though falls often lead to hip and wrist fractures, the most common osteoporotic fractures — vertebral compression fractures — occur without falling, coughing, or any other activity. These fractures simply happen because the vertebrae are too weak to support the normal weight and stress placed on your spine. As a result, they collapse.
The best way to prevent fractures is to get osteoporosis screening with a DEXA (dual X-ray absorptiometry) bone scan. With information from the scan, we can determine if you have osteoporosis, the extent of the problem, and your risk of developing a fracture.
To learn about your risks for osteoporosis or to receive comprehensive care for weak bones, call Pacific Rheumatology Medical Center or request an appointment online today.