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May is National Osteoporosis Awareness Month

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Margo Kerrigan, M.P.H., Area Director
Indian Health Service California Area Office

MAY 2012 - Osteoporosis is a condition where bones become weak and can break very easily. People with advanced cases of osteoporosis can break a bone by doing something as simple as sneezing. The disease occurs in women more often than men, and it is estimated that 50% of women over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis and up to 25% of men over 50 will. In addition to causing bones to break easily, osteoporosis can also affect posture. The bones of the spine can collapse or break resulting in a stooped or hunched posture.

Often, people don'?t realize they have osteoporosis until they break a bone, notice they are slightly shorter, or notice that their upper back is curving forward. Unfortunately by this point, the disease may be in advanced stages. To diagnose osteoporosis or to assess your risk for breaking a bone, your medical provider will take one or more of the following steps:

  • Look at your medical history, your age, gender, diet, exercise and physical activity, smoking and alcohol use, and family history can help your provider determine your risk for osteoporosis and for breaking a bone
  • Perform a physical examination your provider may measure your height and check your spine to see if it is curving forward
  • Perform a bone density test this is the only test that can diagnose osteoporosis before a bone is broken
  • FRAX ? this is a fracture risk assessment tool that can help your doctor estimate your chance of breaking a bone in the next 10 years if your bone density test shows that you have low bone density
  • X-Rays ? your provider may suggest an x-ray of your spine

If you receive a diagnosis of osteoporosis, the disease is not curable, but it is treatable. The risk of breaking a bone can be lowered by taking appropriate osteoporosis medication. They type of medication will depend on factors such as your gender, your age, the severity of your condition, and other health problems you may have.

Prevention is the best way to avoid osteoporosis. Making sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet is important, especially by eating fruits and vegetables. Also engaging in regular physical activity and exercise can help prevent the disease. Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol intake is also important . Healthy eating and exercise habits should begin early in childhood to have the best chance of preventing this disease.

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