Are You at Risk for a Spinal Fracture?
Osteoporosis is known by different names, such as brittle bone disease or the silent thief. Both names describe characteristics of this highly preventable bone disease. Osteoporosis causes bones to lose density—their core strength—and elevates the risk for bones to fracture. The disease is silent because osteoporosis can advance without an ache or pain. Osteoporosis is sometimes, unfortunately, discovered when a fracture occurs.
Common fracture sites:
This animation will show you what happens when your bones weaken due to osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis: It’s Not Just for Women
Osteoporosis is not just a women’s disease, contrary to what you may have heard. Men are at risk, too. In fact, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, approximately one in four men 50 years of age and older will experience a fracture1. The estimated risk for women of similar age is 50%.
Are You at Risk for Osteoporosis?
While statistics are meaningful, you may simply want to know: “What is my risk of osteoporosis?” That is a good question and basis for discussion with your doctor.
Like other diseases, you can control some of the risk factors for osteoporosis.
Risk factors you may be able to control:
- tobacco use: Stop smoking or using tobacco.
- alcohol use: Do not abuse alcohol
- diet: Eat a nutritious diet that includes calcium-rich foods
- exercise: Low-impact exercise such as walking helps build bone
Risk factors beyond your control:
- family history of osteoporosis (eg, mother)
- early menopause
- surgical removal of both ovaries (oophorectomy—may be combined with a hysterectomy)
- fair skin
- small bone frame
Although certain risk factors cannot be controlled, you can still take preventive action to protect your bones and bone health.
Do You Know Your T-score?
You’ve probably heard before that you should “know your numbers" when it comes to your health. Most people equate that statement with blood pressure, body weight, or glucose level.
However, your T-score is just as important. Your doctor may suggest you undergo Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA). DXA measures bone mineral density (BMD) in the hips and lower spine.
DXA is non-invasive, simple, and fast. The radiology technician positions you comfortably on a padded table. The scanner moves overhead. In no time, the test is over.
DXA provides you and your doctor with a T-score. The T-score shows your bone mass compared to the peak bone mass of a young adult man or woman (your gender).
A T-score below -2.5 is osteoporosis.
DXA can detect low bone mass, called osteopenia. An osteopenic T-score falls between -1 and -2.5.
Are Other Tests Necessary to Diagnosing and Treating Osteoporosis?
Your doctor bases his treatment recommendations on your medical and family history, as well as the outcome of a physical and neurological examination.
Many disorders and/or the treatment necessary may contribute to and/or cause osteoporosis. For example, steroids can increase the risk of osteoporosis. However, steroids may be prescribed to treat rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease. Other problems that elevate the risk for osteoporosis include cancer, kidney or liver disease, gastric bypass surgery, diabetes, and thyroid irregularities.
In response to your medical profile, your doctor may recommend one or more tests to detect or monitor a disorder that may have an impact on osteoporosis. He/she may order lab tests to check the level of calcium in your blood and/or urine, and he/she may want to check your thyroid function.
What Happens After Osteoporosis Diagnosis?
The results of your examinations and tests are compiled and carefully analyzed by your doctor. If your doctor is not an osteoporosis specialist, he may refer you to another doctor who is. Currently, osteoporosis is not a medical sub-specialty, although many different types of doctors are highly knowledgeable about the disease and its treatment. Doctors who specialize include endocrinologists, rheumatologists, orthopaedists, and internal medicine physicians.
Your doctor may recommend the following as osteoporosis treatments:
- Change your diet to include more calcium-rich foods.
- Take calcium and vitamin D supplements.
- Increase physical activity (low-impact and weight-bearing exercise).
- Prescription medication to reduce fracture risk and increase bone density.