Think osteoporosis is something that happens to other people? Many men and women don’t learn they have this bone-thinning condition until they suffer a foot, hip or spine fracture, which is why it’s often called the silent disease. But osteoporosis is more common than you may think, already affecting 8 million women and 2 million men in the United States. Another 18 million people have less severe bone loss, called osteopenia, which can lead to osteoporosis if not treated. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, by 2020, half of all Americans older than 50 may have these conditions, putting them at risk for fractures that can lead to disability, depression and even death.
A bone density scan is a fast (five to 10 minutes), painless test that measures your bones’ strength in different areas of your body. If you’re a woman older than 65 or you have significant risk factors for osteoporosis and fractures, you should get tested to learn whether you have weak bones.
If you have low bone mass, your doctor can recommend lifestyle changes and prescribe medications that slow the rate of bone loss and rebuild bone.
You can avoid osteoporosis by taking the following steps to save your bones:
- Be physically active every day. Keep your bones strong with strength training and weight-bearing exercise like walking, jogging or jumping rope.
- Eat a healthy diet and take a supplement for bone health if necessary. Your doctor can tell you how much calcium and vitamin D you need each day.
- Get regular medical checkups. Ask your doctor if you need a bone density scan. Find out whether you have any underlying medical conditions or are taking medications that may be weakening your bones.
- Reduce your risk of falling. A sedentary lifestyle that results from a fall causes bones to weaken. Prevent falls by wearing supportive, nonslip shoes and making your home a safe place by removing things you can trip over. Use bright light bulbs and add handrails in staircases.