As you grow older, you may want to begin thinking about your bone health. Osteoporosis is a disease that gradually weakens the bones, causing them to become brittle and prone to fracture. Risk factors include having a small or thin build, excessive smoking or drinking, living an inactive lifestyle or chronically using certain medications such as steroids.
Q: I feel fine, quite healthy and exercise every day, so do I have to worry about osteoporosis?
A: Unfortunately, osteoporosis can progress quietly and may not be symptomatic until you have a fracture — which can be both painful and disabling. Avoiding risk factors within your control and boosting bone health with weight-bearing exercise and appropriate amounts of calcium and vitamin D can help, but they do not replace the need for appropriate screening. There are also medications that may need to be taken, depending on your bone density measurements.
Q: What is the best kind of calcium supplement?
A: The very best way to get your calcium is from your diet. Milk and by-products of milk (yogurt, cheese), dark greens and fortified breads or cereals often contain good amounts. You want to get about 1,200 mg of calcium per day. If you are concerned you are not getting enough calcium through your diet, you can discuss with your doctor if calcium supplementation is a good idea for you.
Q: Since I am a man do I have to worry about osteoporosis?
A: Although it is true that most people with osteoporosis are women (80 percent of total affected are women), men are not exempt. Approximately 7.5 percent of men will develop osteoporosis in their lifetimes. Men are not routinely screened, but if any of the risk factors apply to you, you should talk to a doctor.
Q: My doctor suggested a bone density test but since there is radiation involved, should I be concerned?
A: Bone density tests (called DEXA scans) expose you to very minimal amounts of radiation — even less than you would get from a chest X-ray or a round-trip cross-country flight.
Q: How do I understand my bone density test results?
A: Your bone density is compared to what the average is for your gender. Expected/normal bone density is between 2.5 and -1.0. Osteopenia is a milder version of thin bones and is indicated with a score between -1.0 and -2.5. If your bones measure at -2.5 or lower, then you have osteoporosis.
Krystal Plotts, MD
, practices at Mid-Valley Medical Plaza in Lebanon
and can be reached at 541-451-7800. To find a Samaritan location offering DEXA scans, go to samhealth.org/Imaging