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Do You Need to Bone Up on Osteoporosis Risk Factors?


May is Osteoporosis Awareness Month and this year it is more important than ever that women learn how to prevent their risk of developing the disease. A recent study shows that many women fail to recognize their own risk factors and the serious consequences of fractures. In fact, the National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that 34 million people could have the condition and not know it.

Read: Osteoporosis Risk Fracture Awareness Alarmingly Low Among Women

This year’s campaign by the NOF is called “Healthy Bones, Build Them for Life” and encourages the entire population (men can get osteoporosis too) to learn the importance of caring for your bones to prevent the development of osteoporosis. They will offer a free webinar on May 27th called “How Strong Are Your Bones” and another on June 29th called “Nutrition for Your Bone Health”. These will begin at 2:00PM Eastern Time and last approximately one hour.

So, how much do you know about osteoporosis? The San Diego Union-Tribune offers a quiz to help you “bone up” on your knowledge about osteoporosis and how to build an action plan to prevent fractures. For example, did you know that there are no symptoms of osteoporosis, particularly in the early stages? Many people believe that they will know that they need to be tested because of aching and throbbing pain that signal the weakening of bones. But osteoporosis is often called a “silent thief”, because for many, the first they know that they have the condition is after a fracture.

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Another common myth women believe is that bone cannot be built after a certain age and that there is nothing they can do to prevent osteoporosis. While it is true that the majority of the skeleton is built in adolescence and young adulthood, healthy lifestyle choices when you are older can still have a positive effect on your bones. For example, women were physically active and participated in strength-training exercises twice a week for a year gained 1 to 2 percent in bone density. A healthy diet that includes nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D and magnesium, can drastically slow the rate of age-related bone loss.

Read: Exercise in Childhood and Adolescence May Stave Off Osteoporosis

Other risk factors for osteoporosis include having a family history of the disease, having a broken bone after the age of 50, early onset of menopause (for women), and taking such medications as prednisone, blood thinners, and anti-seizure drugs, having a small, thin frame, those of Caucasian or Asian race, cigarette smoking, and men with low testosterone.

Read: Osteoporosis in Men Often Overlooked

When should you begin testing for osteoporosis? Probably the best first step is to take the World Health Organization’s Fracture Assessment Risk Tool, or FRAX. The online calculation tool will provide you with the ten-year probability of fracture based on your answers to 12 questions. Weight and height are calculated using kilograms and centimeters, respectively, but there is a conversion box to the left of the questionnaire. Question 12 needs the assistance of your physician, as it asks for “femoral neck bone mineral density”; however you can complete the tool leaving this blank.

Should this indicate that your risk for fracture is elevated, take the results to your primary health care provider for further testing. Remember, though, that this questionnaire just gives probabilities based on several risk factors and does not replace annual physical examinations.