GHS Cares: With Age Comes Thinning Bones

4/5/2018

As we age, bone thinning becomes more prevalent and increases the risk of broken bones. The combination of thin bones and someone falling can lead to a hip fracture in an older adult. Doctors categorize bone thinning as either osteopenia or osteoporosis depending on the severity of the thinness. Osteoporosis, the worst of the two, often requires treatment and it greatly increases the risk of broken bones.

Fact #1 While some risk factors for thin bones are out of our control, there are many that we can help prevent.

Risk factors for bone thinning that we cannot control include advanced age, being a woman, and a family history of thin bones. However, there are other risk factors that can be managed, including excess alcohol use, tobacco use, regular use of prescribed steroid medicines, and being underweight. Another key aspect of better bone health as we age is good bone formation during childhood and particularly the teenage years. Children need a varied, healthy lifestyle which includes diets rich in calcium and vitamin D, as well as physical activity, in order to grow strong bones.

Fact #2 Women 65 years and older should be screened for thin bones.

Since osteoporosis increases the risk of broken bones, we recommend screening high risk populations for thin bones. Specifically, the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening all women over age 65 for thin bones. They also recommend screening some women under age 65 if they have the risk factors mentioned above. We do not generally screen most men for this, as being a man decreases the risk of thin bones significantly compared to women. However, if a man has had an unusual bone fracture or there are specific reasons to suspect bone density problems, men are occasionally screened for thin bones.

Fact #3 There are certain screens and medications used to identify osteoporosis.

Screening for osteoporosis is done using x-ray. The specific test is called a DXA scan or dual energy x-ray absorptiometry test, which looks at your spine and hips. It is an easy, quick scan that does not require any injections. If thin bones are identified on the scan, your doctor will discuss treatment options including medicines called bisphosphonates. These medicines can lower your risk of having broken bones in correlation with thin bones.

Fact #4 Diet and exercise are key to preventing thin bones.

We often receive questions about how to prevent thin bones. The most important things you can do to prevent thin bones involves diet and exercise. It is important to eat calcium-rich foods, such as dairy, dark leafy greens like collards and kale, oranges, and some seafood including sardines. There are also calcium-fortified foods, including some tofu, nut-based milk and other products. Vitamin D is also important, as it helps you absorb calcium. Vitamin D comes from the sun but is also found in seafood and fortified foods. Calcium and vitamin D supplements are also a possibility, although direct, whole food sources are preferred when possible. If you are considering calcium and vitamin D supplements, we encourage you to discuss the specifics with your doctor. Finally, weight bearing exercise several times a week can help protect your bone density.

Dr. Liz Baltaro and Dr. Amy Nayo are primary care physicians expanding community access to quality pediatric and family medicine at Granville Primary Care, Butner-Creedmoor, located at 1614 NC Highway 56, Butner. To schedule your primary care appointment, please call 919-575-6103 or schedule online at ghshospital.org. You can schedule a primary care appointment with a provider as far as 12 months in advance through online scheduling.

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