A special guest post by Rachel I. Mandel, MD
If you knew that there was a serious medical epidemic in the United States that already affects 10 million people and that 34 million more are at risk of getting the disease, would you take measures to avoid being one of them? If you knew that in 2005 this disease cost Americans $19 billion to diagnose and treat, would you try to prevent yourself from becoming a victim?
What is this epidemic? It is osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition where bones deteriorate and become fragile, making them more likely to break. Osteoporosis occurs most often in the spine, hips and wrist, but any bone can be affected. Once you have a hip fracture, the complications can be serious and even life threatening. Spinal fractures can cause lifelong pain and disability. Most individuals with osteoporosis don’t know they are affected until they have a life-altering fracture.
Some individuals are at higher risk of developing osteoporosis than others. Women are four times more likely than men to get an osteoporotic fracture. Women lose 20% of their bone mass in the first 5-7 years after menopause. A woman’s risk of hip fracture is equal to her combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.
Osteoporosis can run in families, and risk increases as you age. Smoking, drinking and a lack of exercise will weaken bones. Certain diseases and medications can contribute to osteoporosis. As an example, thyroid disease and long term steroid use can weaken bones.
Why is this so important? Aside from the pain and cost, there are significant consequences of a fracture. At six months after a hip fracture, only 15 percent of the patients can walk across a room unaided. Osteoporotic fractures can negatively impact a person’s quality of life.
How do you know if you have this disease? Osteoporosis is diagnosed by a specialized bone density test (DEXA). It measures how thick or thin your bones are, and can provide an assessment of fracture risk. It is a simple, painless test that takes 5-10 minutes and uses very little radiation. Experts say that you are exposed to 10-15 times more radiation from flying in plane roundtrip between the East and West coast.
There are many risk factors for the development of osteoporosis. Some of these you can’t control, such as your gender, age and family history. Still, there are many things you can do to preserve your bones. For example, weight bearing exercise can decrease your risk of developing osteoporosis. Bones are not like stone, they respond to exercise by becoming stronger.
You may need to supplement your diet with calcium and vitamin D. Both are needed to maintain and build bone. Smoking and excessive alcohol intake will interfere with normal bone growth. Additionally, there are medications available that can treat bone thinning, and help build new bone.
Think about how you can change your lifestyle to improve your bone health and discuss it with your primary care provider. You can stop an epidemic.
Now you know.
If you’re concerned about your risk for osteoparosis, Frederick Memorial Hospital and the Frederick County Commission for Women are partnering to present an osteoparosis outreach program at four different locations around our county. During each event (April 5th, 7th, 11th and 16th, 2011), a leading Frederick County physician will provide a presentation, followed by questions and answers from community participants.
Strengthen Your Knowledge, Your Outlook and Your Bones!
Dr. Rachel Mandel attended medical school at Northwestern University. She did her Ob/Gyn residency at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii. She has practiced in Texas and North Carolina prior to moving to Frederick. She is a board certified member of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. She is very interested in the development of women’s health services in the county. She enjoys American Sign Language and interacting with the Deaf community. She practices gynecology with three other female providers at Women’s Health Specialists of Frederick. “Women Caring For Women” 301-620-0010, www.womenshealthspecialistsoffrederick.com.