Broken hips and wrists and painful bone fractures are one of the big worries many women have as we age. We want to keep our bones as strong as possible, and if we do develop osteoporosis we want to know: what should we do about it? During May, which is National Osteoporosis Month, you’ll probably see lots of news and information about this, and some of it may make you feel even more concerned. The Network would like to assure you that there are steps you can take to reduce your chance of breaking a bone so that you’ll be able to avoid the pain and limits on mobility that can come with those injuries, allowing you to continue an active life through menopause and beyond.
- Make sure you get enough calcium and Vitamin D
- Engage in regular physical activity and weight bearing exercise
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
- Take precautions to avoid slipping or falling
- Discuss your own medical history and the risks and benefits of medical treatment with your physician
Understanding the risks and benefits of medical treatment for osteoporosis is also important as there are myths about this condition that can be confusing, leading to excessive testing and unnecessary exposure to drug risks and side effects. We’d like to help counter those myths and provide some guidance.
Are you at risk for osteoporosis and should you get a DEXA scan?
DEXA scans, which measure the density of your bones, are the most common method of diagnosing osteoporosis. At the urging of scan manufacturers and drug makers, many doctors recommend that patients start getting tested for osteoporosis as young as 45 or 50. But the best evidence shows that for most women these tests are not helpful until they reach age 65. Now some doctors are pushing back with the Choosing Wisely campaign which has identified DEXA scans as one of several commonly overused tests whose use needs to be reevaluated.
Do you really have Osteoporosis? Knowing your bones – DEXA scans can be misleading. On receiving a low DEXA scan score, women often fear that they have very fragile bones that are likely to break. But this is not always true. The majority of women with low bone density never experience a serious fracture. The healthy living tips above can help individuals with low bone density reduce their risk of breaking a bone.
If you need treatment
If you do have osteoporosis, the next question to consider is what to do about it? Several types of drugs have been approved to treat osteoporosis. NWHN encourages women to take time to make an informed decision, not just about which drugs to use, but how soon to start treatment. Serious fractures are most likely to happen to women in their 80s. Rushing to start treatment after a bone density test in your late 50s might not be a good idea, as drug side effects and complications become more frequent after the first 3-4 years.
We want women to make informed decisions about how to avoid broken bones, when and how to take stock of their own risk factors, and what kind of treatment options are available. There’s lots of good information available on our website, including this factsheet and this recent newsletter article. But don’t spend all your time reading! Natural sunlight helps the body make its own Vitamin D so go outside and enjoy what we hope will be a sunny month of May.
P.S. Be sure to "Like" us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to keep up with the latest women's health news.