woman with milk

The “Silent Disease”—Preventing and Treating Osteoporosis

By James Joyce, M.D., Family Medicine

When you hear “osteoporosis,” what do you think? That it’s just something that happens to the elderly? That there’s nothing you can do to stop it from happening to you? The good news is osteoporosis is preventable and treatable when diagnosed early.

What is osteoporosis?

As living “tissue” within our bodies, existing bone is continually being broken down and replaced with new bone. The production of new bone begins to slow in your 20s, and bone mass peaks by age 30. When new bone creation can’t keep up with the old bone lost, osteoporosis occurs.

Osteoporosis is often called the “silent disease” because it does not produce symptoms as bone loss occurs. Over time, bone breakage increases—commonly occurring in the vertebrae, hip, wrist, or forearm. As backbones deteriorate, osteoporosis can cause vertebrae to collapse or fracture. These occurrences are often painless but significantly increase the risk for future fractures. One in two women and one in eight men are either at risk for fracture or have at least one spinal fracture and don’t know it.

Eat Right for Healthier Bones

Daily calcium (1,000 mg average) can help keep your bones healthy when paired with vitamin D (400 IU) to help your body absorb it. Good sources of calcium include milk, cheese, and similar dairy products, green leafy veggies (broccoli, cabbage, okra), tofu, nuts, bread made with fortified flour, and fish with edible bones, such as sardines. 10 to 15 minutes of direct sunlight on your skin (not through a window) provides sufficient amounts of Vitamin D. If you’re seldom outdoors or if the sun won’t cooperate, Vitamin D is also found in oily fish like salmon, and wheat, eggs, or leafy greens.

Symptoms of bones weakened by osteoporosis include:

  • Back pain
  • Gradual loss of height
  • Stooped posture
  • Bone(s) that break easily

Without regular bone density tests, it is challenging to identify osteoporosis in its early stages. The diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis begin with a measurement of your current bone density. Women age 65 or older or women ages 60 or older with other risk factors are recommended to have bone density scans. When looking at other risk factors, women who are white or of Asian descent, have a more petite body frame, and/or have a family history of osteoporosis are encouraged to discuss early testing with their primary care provider.

DEXA Scan and IVA Assessment

A common test doctors use to measure bone health is called a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA). A DEXA scan is a safe, accurate, and painless imaging test to determine your bone density or the amount of bone mass present. It involves no injections or invasive procedures. Instant Vertebral Assessment (IVA) is a 10-second, low-dose x-ray scan of the entire spine. It allows doctors to see existing vertebral fractures.

Glacial Ridge provides bone density testing in-house to assess the risk for osteoporotic fractures. IVA may be performed in conjunction with a bone density test during the same appointment. The results help your doctor manage your health in terms of osteoporosis, abdominal aortic calcifications, vertebral fractures, obesity, and more. Talk to your provider and find out if a bone density test is right for you.