Osteoporosis and Paget’s disease affect the bones of the body making them weaker and more fragile. These diseases cause the bones to lose calcium and other minerals that keep them strong, making them more likely to fracture. The problem is that these diseases can’t be felt. They are called “silent diseases”and often people do not know they have them until they fall and break a bone. Knowing one’s risk for these diseases can lead to early detection, which leads to better treatment.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF) estimates that 54 million Americans over the age of 50 have osteoporosis and low bone mass. One in two women and one in four men will break a bone due to osteoporosis. In fact, the NOF says that the disease is responsible for two million broken bones and $19 billion in healthcare costs every year. As millions of Baby Boomers age into their 60’s and 70’s, experts are predicting that the rate of fractures will only increase. They predict the disease will cause three million fractures and $25.3 billion in healthcare costs by the year 2025.
Signs, symptoms and risks of osteoporosis
Unfortunately, there are few signs and symptoms for osteoporosis and Paget’s disease. In some cases there is a change in posture. Individuals may notice:
- Their upper back is curving forward
- They are getting shorter
- The spine is curving.
For many individuals, the first sign of osteoporosis is falling and breaking a bone.
It is important to know one’s risk for osteoporosis so that physicians can monitor bone health. Risk factors for the disease can differ for men and women. They include:
Risk factors for women:
- European or American ethnic background
- Estrogen deficiency
- Early menopause occurring before the age of 45
- Low calcium intake over the course of a lifetime
- Medications that lower estrogen levels
Risk factors for men:
- White males
- Low levels of testosterone that are undiagnosed
- Chronic disease that alters hormone levels and affects the kidneys, lungs, stomach and intestines
- Smoking and alcoholism
Risk factors for men and women:
A history of certain diseases can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis for both men and women. These diseases include, but are not limited to:
- Leukemia and lymphoma
- Multiple myeloma
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- An overactive thyroid gland or parathyroid gland
- Kidney failure
Some medications can also increase the risk of osteoporosis. They include:
- Seizure medication
- Immunosuppressive drugs
- Thyroid replacement medications
Increased risk for falls
Because osteoporosis causes fragile bones it can increase the risk of falls and broken bones. If and when falls do occur, injuries can be much more serious because the bones are weak. Bone breaks caused by osteoporosis most frequently occur in the hip, spine, or wrist. Healing is more difficult and long term pain, or worse, may result. According to the NOF, twenty percent of seniors who break a hip die within one year, “either from complications related to the broken bone itself or the surgery to repair it”.
Paget’s disease is a chronic disease that impacts the body’s bone remodeling. That is the process by which new bone tissue grows to replace old bone tissue. When that process is disrupted, bones become fragile and misshapen. Paget’s disease most commonly affects the pelvis, skull, spine and legs.
There are two types of Paget’s disease:
- When a single bone is affected (monostotic)
- When multiple bones are affected (polyostotic)
Scientists disagree on the specific causes of Paget’s disease. However, generally they agree that it is a combination of environmental and genetic factors. There is no cure.
The best way to prevent osteoporosis is to build strong bones. The most effective ways to do that are through strength training and weight bearing exercises.
Strength training: Lifting light weights can increase bone and muscle mass which helps to keep the bones, muscles and ligaments strong. When bone and muscle strength is increased, the risk of falls is decreased.
Weight bearing exercises force the body to move against gravity, making the bones stronger in the process. Examples of weight bearing exercises include:
- Climbing stairs
- Tennis and other racket sports
- Tai chi
- Water aerobics
Increasing one’s intake of calcium and Vitamin D can help to make the bones stronger as well. It’s easy to eat foods that are packed with calcium. They include:
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy products
- Calcium-fortified juices and foods, like cereal, soy milk, and tofu
- Sardines and salmon with bones
- Dark green vegetables, like kale and broccoli
Foods with high levels of Vitamin D include:
- Fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, and tuna
- Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks
- Fortified foods like milk, cereal, and orange juice
Osteoporosis and Paget’s disease pose significant risks for seniors. If you suspect that you or a loved one may be at risk for either of these diseases, discuss it with your doctor. Ask if a bone density test is appropriate for you to detect whether or not osteoporosis or Paget’s disease is present.
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