Janeen Bjork, MD, is a Family Practice Physician and is on the active medical staff at Page Hospital.
Question: Is osteoporosis an old person’s disease?
Answer: While age is an osteoporosis risk factor, it’s a misconception that osteoporosis affects only the elderly. Another form of the disease, called secondary osteoporosis, affects children and young adults. Secondary osteoporosis is drug or disease-induced. At greatest risk are those with juvenile arthritis, diabetes, hyperthyroidism or anorexia nervosa, or those who take anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, immunosuppressive agents or similar medications to treat arthritis and epilepsy.
Question: Why measure bone density?
Answer: Years ago the only time osteoporosis, the disease that causes the bones to be more fragile and likely to break, could be detected was when you broke a bone. Today, a bone density test can determine if you have osteoporosis or are at risk before you break any bones. DEXA, which utilizes X-rays, and QCT, a CT scan, are today’s established standards for measuring bone density. A bone density test measures how many grams of calcium and other bone minerals are packed into a segment of bone. The higher your mineral content, the denser your bones are.
The denser your bones are, the stronger they are and the less likely to break.
Question: What are the symptoms?
Answer: There are no symptoms of osteoporosis until you break a bone (suffering an osteoporotic fracture, which is also called a fragility fracture). That is why early detection and treatment are so important. While all of us start losing bone density around age 25 to 30, women experience an accelerated bone loss at menopause due to the (relatively) abrupt loss of estrogen. Men also lose bone density as they age due to decreased levels of testosterone.
Question: Is osteoporosis preventable?
Answer: Making correct lifestyle changes such as avoiding or stopping smoking, engaging in regular weight bearing exercise, and ensuring you are getting an adequate intake of calcium and Vitamin D can help prevent this disease.
Question: Is calcium important?
Answer: To ensure strong bones throughout your life, you need to begin monitoring your calcium intake at an early age. Your bones act as a storeroom for calcium. When you are younger you want to build up that bone density so you have more to lose later.