Typically considered a "silent" disease due to its lack of visible symptoms, osteoporosis affects roughly 10 million adults ages 50 and older in the United States, and can lead to weakened bones and an increased risk of fractures and injuries.
Osteoporosis is a disease that is characterized by a decrease in bone mass and bone mineral density. It can lead to weakened bones, which are often at an increased risk of fractures or injuries, particularly among older adults. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, the condition causes around 2 million broken bones every year.
Because osteoporosis typically does not have any symptoms, many people are unaware they have the condition until they break a bone unexpectedly. To diagnose osteoporosis, providers may use questionnaires, family medical history, bone density scans, and other laboratory tests.
Currently, around 10 million U.S. adults ages 50 and older have osteoporosis, and around 43 million people have osteopenia, which is a similar but less severe condition that can progress to osteoporosis over time.
Women are at an increased risk of developing the disease compared to men. One in four women have osteoporosis compared to one in 20 men.
Other risk factors for the disease include older age, a family history of the disease, being white or Asian, heavy drinking and smoking, insufficient levels of calcium and vitamin D, and taking certain medications, such as corticosteroids.
Since osteoporosis often goes undiagnosed until patients are injured, health experts say that people should be assessed for the condition in advance.
"If someone suspects that they may have osteoporosis, it's important to get evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible," said Kellie Middleton, an orthopedic surgeon at Northside Hospital. "Your doctor can order the appropriate tests and advise you on any lifestyle changes you need to make."
Currently, CDC advises women ages 65 and older, as well as women ages 50 to 64 with certain risk factors, be regularly screened for the condition. Although no official screening recommendation has been made for men, Joshua Carothers, an orthopedic surgeon and CMO at VIP StarNetwork, said men over 70 should consider getting screened.
"In general, if a patient has risk factors for osteoporosis, it's worth a discussion with their medical provider," he said. "Anyone who has had a fragility fracture, including a wrist fracture, hip fracture or spine compression fracture, should also be evaluated."
To reduce the risk of osteoporosis, health experts offer several recommendations, including:
Patients with osteoporosis can also reduce their risk of falling and fracturing a bone by wearing shoes with non-slip soles, using a mobility device to increase their stability, keeping their living space well lit and free of tripping hazards, and installing safety rails in high-risk areas, such as in near the shower or toilet. (Searing, Washington Post, 6/5; Wirth, Forbes, 3/10)
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