Throughout our lives, our bodies are continually breaking down our bones and rebuilding them. As we age, our bodies continue to do a really good job of breaking down bone, but we’re not always as good at rebuilding it. As a result, our bones can become thin – this is called osteopenia, which can lead to osteoporosis.

Osteopenia is more common in women, but it can happen in men as well. When it becomes osteoporosis, your bones are thin enough they could break easily simply from bumping into something too hard or falling. These breaks are called fragility fractures.

So, how will you know if you have osteoporosis? If you are a woman, your doctor will probably start testing you for osteoporosis and osteopenia starting at age 65. It’s less clear when we should start testing men for these conditions, but men nearing the age of 70 have the greatest risk for bone loss.

Other risk factors can include smoking, a history of arthritis or broken bones or a diet that is low in calcium or vitamin D. Men should talk to their doctors and discuss the risks and benefits of screenings. Tests include an X-ray (or two) and shouldn’t be painful or take long to complete.

Okay, so you’ve had the test done and the results are in. Now what?

With osteopenia, sometimes we can slow down the bone loss with some basic lifestyle changes. You should eat a diet high in calcium (milk, yogurt, green, leafy vegetables) and vitamin D (milk with added vitamin D, fish).

Your doctor might also recommend supplements if you can’t get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Exercising at least 30 minutes per day on most days and quitting smoking can also help slow down bone loss.

If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, you’ll probably need medicine to help strengthen your bones. There are several treatment options. These range from pills that you take once a week to injections that you take every six months. Your doctor is the best source of information on which treatment option is going to be best and easiest for you.

You should be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D, because these are the building blocks your body will use to rebuild your bones. Quitting smoking and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise per day on most days are all great ways to treat osteoporosis.

You should also minimize fall risks by wearing non-slip shoes, removing trip hazards from your home and using a cane or walker if you’re a bit unsteady. Fragility fractures are hard to heal and usually have a big effect on your quality of life for a long time. So, like with most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

More questions? Reach out to your doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant for more information and insight into their recommendations for your specific situation.

If you have any recommendations on health topics that are important to you, please let us know at michael.stone@balladhealth.org.

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