Monday Medical: Keeping bones strong

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— If you have never paid much attention to bone strength, May is a great time to start. That’s because this is National Osteoporosis Awareness Month.

“Osteoporosis” is a Greek word meaning bone passage or porous bones. This disease silently causes reduced bone strength and an increased risk of broken bones.

The good news is that osteoporosis is easy to diagnose. It also is treatable and even preventable in many cases.

Detection of osteoporosis is done with a bone density study, a painless, non-invasive test. Yampa Valley Medical Center has been providing these studies for many years and recently purchased upgraded equipment.

“Our new Hologic Discovery bone densitometry system has superior image quality at a very high speed,” YVMC Radiology Director Mary Jo Wiedel said. “It uses the most leading-edge technology available, combined with minimal radiation exposure.”

Osteoporosis is the major underlying cause of fractures in postmenopausal women and the elderly. A fracture in the spine or hip can be serious, reducing quality of life or leading to fatal complications.

Although many factors contribute to osteoporosis, aging is a common one. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases states that starting in midlife, men and women experience an age-related decline in bone mass.

Women lose bone mass more rapidly after menopause because of hormonal changes, according to NIAMS. By age 65, men and women tend to lose bone tissue at the same gradual rate.

So what can be done to treat or prevent osteoporosis?

Because osteoporosis can result from a wide range of genetic factors, diseases, conditions, eating disorders, medications or medical treatments, NIAMS recommends consulting a physician to discuss personal prevention or treatment options.

However, you can take steps to protect your bones at any age. Here are some tips from the National Osteoporosis Foundation to keep your bones as healthy as possible.

Young people can help their bones grow in size and strength during childhood and adolescence by being active and eating healthy foods. The more bone mass you attain during this period, the more protection you have against osteoporosis later in life.

Calcium builds strong bones. The foundation recommends getting most calcium from food, including:

■ Low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese

■ Salmon and sardines

■ Dark green, leafy vegetables

■ Calcium-fortified orange juice

■ Foods made with calcium-fortified flour

Your doctor may suggest taking a calcium supplement. The foundation recommends not consuming more than 2,000 mg of calcium daily, as too much calcium can increase the risk of kidney problems.

Vitamin D, obtained from some foods and supplements, helps your body absorb calcium. Eggs, fatty fish, cereal and fortified milk are good sources of vitamin D. Spending as little as 20 minutes in the sun can supply a daily dose of vitamin D, but exposure to ultraviolet rays poses a skin cancer risk.

Three or four weekly sessions of weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, dancing, climbing stairs or weightlifting will help make your bones stronger. Strengthening and balance exercises may help you avoid falls and decrease your chance of breaking a bone.

Choosing not to smoke is another healthy option. Smoking interferes with the body’s absorption of calcium and production of estrogen, a substance that protects the bones.

Bone loss is a silent process within the body. Talk to your physician or health care provider about ways to keep your bones healthy, including prescription medications that can stop bone loss or rebuild bone.

A recent treatment advancement may be especially good news for postmenopausal women who are taking monthly or weekly oral medications. YVMC’s Infusion/Chemotherapy Center administers a 20-minute treatment of the drug Reclast, which is effective for a full year. Boniva is another medication that is available by injection at YVMC.

Your doctor may order a bone density exam to get an accurate picture of your body’s bone mass. When a mammogram also is ordered, Wiedel said YVMC will schedule both exams together as a convenience. Patients can call 970-871-2399.

“Our goal in detecting osteoporosis with advanced technology is to help women and men live longer, healthier, more active lives,” Wiedel said.

Christine McKelvie is public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at christine.mckelvie@yvmc.org.

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