Sadly, the first time many people think about osteoporosis is after their first bone fracture. Even though this disease of weakened bones is highly common — affecting as many as 200 million people worldwide — many myths prevent people from seeking the treatment or risk-reduction strategies they need. Below are just a few common assumptions.
Myth or Fact: Men don't get osteoporosis
Myth. Although osteoporosis is five times more common in women, 20 to 25 percent of men will experience a bone fracture because of osteoporosis or reduced bone mass during their lives. Men typically develop osteoporosis a little later in life, after age 65. Women may develop it as early as their 50s because of the effects of menopause.
Myth or Fact: You may never notice symptoms
Fact. Osteoporosis can be a silent disease. It typically doesn't come with pain or other symptoms. To further complicate things, even a fracture may be painless. You will notice a broken leg or hip, of course, but vertebral fractures can happen over time with very little discomfort.
The silent nature of this disease is all the more reason to talk to a doctor about risk factors and whether you would benefit from a DEXA scan — a simple test that measures bone density. For women after menopause, we typically recommend having one every two years. Men may not need them as frequently, but it's absolutely worth working out a schedule recommendation with your doctor.
Myth or Fact: Osteoporosis is a natural part of aging
Myth. Aging is a factor, but there's so much more to osteoporosis. In addition, most people will lose bone mass over time, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have osteoporosis.
Other factors play a part, including genetics and family history, a lack of vitamin D, high caffeine intake, smoking, a lack of exercise, and even medications such as those used to treat acid reflux and prostate cancer.
Myth or Fact: You don't need to think about osteoporosis when you're young
Myth. Establishing good exercise and nutrition habits at any age will help you reduce your risk. Exercise may help you prevent losing as much bone as you would if you were a couch potato.
Smart eating habits can help you get the vitamins and minerals that help fight bone loss. For example, both calcium and vitamin D play a major role in bone health. If you're not getting enough in your diet or through sunlight, ask a doctor about supplementation.
Myth or Fact: You can regain bone mass
Fact. Even if you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you can increase your bone density — but probably not without help.
Exercise alone won't do it. Calcium and vitamin D supplements alone won't do it. The best way to approach bone loss is through a combination of these plus medications designed to treat osteoporosis.
The bottom line: Don't ignore osteoporosis. The more you know about it, the more you can work to prevent it — or treat it if you've been diagnosed.
Katie Burris is a physician assistant Orthopedic Associates of SW Ohio. We have offices throughout the Miami Valley region to provide convenient, high quality orthopedic care to the community.