Osteoporosis: Are You at Risk?


Approximately 54 million Americans, which is half of all adults aged 50 and older, are at risk of bone fractures and should be concerned about their bone health. A primary cause of bone fractures in older adults is osteoporosis, which affects 10 million Americans. Another 44 million Americans have low bone density, placing them at an increased risk for developing osteoporosis.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis commonly affects the hip, wrist and spine, and it leaves individuals more vulnerable to fractures. Osteoporosis is caused by a decrease in bone mineral density and mass, as well as changes in bone structure and strength, resulting in weak and brittle bones.

“The bones in your body are constantly being broken down and replaced with new tissue, but when the creation of new bone does not keep pace with the loss of old bone, it can cause osteoporosis,” said Ajay K. Mathur, MD, FACP, a board-certified rheumatologist at Penn Highlands Rheumatology in Monongahela.

What are the symptoms of osteoporosis?

Typically, there are no symptoms, making osteoporosis a “silent” disease. You may not know you have osteoporosis until you break a bone. Fractures from osteoporosis can occur anywhere in the body, but they happen most often in the hip, wrist and vertebrae in the spine.

Who is at risk for osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a major cause of fractures in postmenopausal women and in older men. Some individuals may have several risk factors, while others may not have any risk factors.

Factors that may increase your risk for osteoporosis include the following:

  • Sex. Women are at a greater risk for osteoporosis because they have lower peak bone mass and smaller bones. Men are still at risk, however, especially men over 70.
  • Age. Bone loss accelerates as you age and new bone growth is slower, which can weaken your bones and increase your risk.
  • Body size. Slender women and men are at greater risk because they have less bone than larger boned women and men.
  • Race. All races are vulnerable to osteoporosis, but white and Asian women are at the highest risk.
  • Family history. According to recent research, your risk may also increase if one of your parents has a history of osteoporosis or hip fracture.
  • Changes to hormones. Low levels of certain hormones can increase your chances, including lower estrogen levels in women after menopause or in men with conditions that cause low levels of testosterone.
  • Diet. A diet low in calcium and vitamin D may increase your risk, as well as excessive dieting or poor protein intake.
  • Medications. Certain drugs such as corticosteroids, which are prescribed for many conditions ranging from asthma to autoimmune disorders, also increase the risk.

“You have control over some of these risk factors, while others are out of your hands,” said Dr. Mathur. “But even though you cannot change some of your risk factors, understanding that you are at a higher risk is important for taking steps to keep your bones strong.”

How is osteoporosis detected?

Osteoporosis does not present any symptoms until you break a bone. A bone density test is an effective screening method and is recommended for post-menopausal women around the age of 65, and men age 70 and older.

Can osteoporosis be prevented?

In some cases, osteoporosis can be prevented, and diet and exercise play an important role in not only prevention but also treatment.

  • Calcium, vitamin D and protein are key in preventing osteoporosis. Men and women between the ages of 18 and 50 should get 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. When women turn 50 and men turn 70, the daily recommended amount bumps up to 1,200 milligrams. Good sources of calcium include low-fat dairy, leafy green vegetables, fish and fortified juices, milk and grains. If your vitamin D level is low, talk with your doctor about taking a supplement.
  • Weight-bearing exercise, such as strength training, walking, hiking, jogging and climbing stairs can help build and strengthen your bones.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation or not at all. Too much alcohol consumption can harm your bones.

What is the treatment of osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is commonly treated with medication -- and the options are extensive. Following an exam, your physician will determine the best option for you.

Penn Highlands Healthcare offers comprehensive rheumatology care, including diagnosis and treatment for osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, tendinitis and more. To learn more, visit www.phhealthcare.org/rheumatology. The endocrinologists at Penn Highlands Healthcare also diagnose and treat osteoporosis. For more information, visit www.phhealthcare.org/endocrinology.