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Osteoporosis: A Common Cause of Bone Fractures

Patients often confuse the term osteoporosis with osteoarthritis. Osteoporosis is the loss of calcium and bone substances from the body, and has little effect on the joints. Osteoarthritis, however, is a disease which affects the joints and has very little to do with calcium. Recent estimates suggest that 25% of women over the age of 65 years will suffer a fracture of the spine due to osteoporosis. Over the age of 80 years, 50% of women will be afflicted. This disorder can also strike one out of every six men.


The loss of bone usually affects the spine, hips, ribs, and wrists. When enough bone is lost, fractures may occur. It is estimated that as high as one million fractures occur annually in women over the age of 45 years. By the elimination of osteoporosis, 350,000 of these fractures may be prevented. Women who are at high risk for osteoporosis are those who are post-menopausal, smoke cigarettes, lack exercise or are of small build.

The diagnosis of osteoporosis (which once was very difficult) is now accomplished by a simple painless test. This revolutionary test, called a bone density study, is very accurate and can be performed on a regular basis to help determine if treatment has been effective. Many types of bone density testing are available. DEXA is considered one of the safest and most reliable of such tests.

Prevention is one of the best forms of treatment. Patients are encouraged to eat foods high in calcium, such as dairy products. Patients that are not able to ingest enough calcium in their diet must begin taking supplemental calcium pills. Currently, many over-the-counter calcium pills are available. However, not all calcium can be absorbed by the body. As a result, some patients may develop kidney stones while taking calcium. Vitamin D is often used with calcium to help the body absorb calcium into the bones. Recently new medications have been developed which can actually rebuild osteoporotic bone. These new medications, which appear to be both safe and effective, have been shown to build bones in both patients with osteoporosis and osteopenia (slightly decreased bone mass).

If you fall into one of the aforementioned high-risk groups, you should seek medical attention. A DEXA study should be performed. Your physician can then determine if calcium is right for you, or if you are in need of additional therapy.


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All medications have potential side effects, risks and interactions with other medications as well as over the counter drugs. Not all medications are right for all patients. You should always check with your physician or health care provider prior to the use of any medication.

 

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