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Osteoporosis is a major health problem in the United States. The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that there are currently 10 million Americans with this condition and another 34 million Americans who have low bone density and are at risk for developing the disease.
Who Gets Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis can strike men or women and can develop at any age. That said, about 80 percent of osteoporosis patients are women and about 20 percent are men. The disease is also more prevalent in the elderly community. It is thought that more than 90 percent of women over the age of 70 have osteoporosis. Post menopausal women lose bone mass quickly and are at greater risk of developing this disease.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is diagnosed when a patient has both low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue. This low bone density makes bones brittle and weak which can cause bones to fracture easily. It is estimated that 50 percent of American women over the age of 50 and 25 percent of American men over the age of 50 will suffer a bone fracture due to low bone density.
Bone fractures are not only uncomfortable but can be a real health problem for older patients. Fractures can occur in any bone but are most common in the bones of the hip, spine and wrist. Fractures can greatly affect a patient's quality of life. Most patients who suffer a hip fracture still have difficulty walking without assistance 6 months after the accident. Also, many fractures require hospitalization which brings additional risks of infection and complications that can be life threatening.
Osteoporosis is diagnosed through a bone mineral density test (BMD test). This test measures bone density and can predict a patient's likelihood of getting a fracture in the future. The patient can then discuss the test information with his or her physician who will develop a treatment plan if osteoporosis is diagnosed.
How is Osteoporosis Treated?
There is no cure for osteoporosis. Patients with osteoporosis are encouraged to lead an active life style and to make sure that their diet or dietary supplements include enough calcium and Vitamin D to support the development of new bone. Regular exercise and refraining from smoking and drinking alcohol can also aid in maintaining healthy bones.
Many patients require medications in addition to their lifestyle changes. For post menopausal women and for men, bisphosphonate drugs such as Fosamax, are commonly prescribed. Bisphosphonates help rebuild bone density and are often very effective at treating osteoporosis. However, like many drugs, bisphosphonates have risks associated with them. Those potential risks, such as osteonecrosis and esophageal cancer should be carefully reviewed with one's physician prior to starting treatment.
Osteoporosis is a serious disease that affects millions of Americans. Medications are available to help treat the symptoms of the disease. Patients, particularly those over age 50, should speak with their doctors about screening recommendations and possible treatments before they suffer a fracture that could significantly impact, or even end, their lives.