Silent but costly disease: more Texans are at risk for osteoporosis

She’s your typical Texas woman with too much to do and too little time to do it in. She’s 51 with teen-agers to worry about, or a career that keeps her busy, or maybe both. The last thing on her mind is how much calcium she’s getting every day. But that’s an important question for women of all ages, especially those age 50 and above. Almost 75 percent of osteoporosis costs occur in Texans age 75 and older. This share will increase as the Texas population ages. For many, active intervention is needed now to prevent painful and costly bone fractures. “You and your doctor can easily find out what condition your bones are in,” said Elaine Braslow, administrator for the Osteoporosis Awareness and Education Program at the Texas Department of Health (TDH). “A bone density test is a safe, painless X-ray technique that compares an individual’s bone density to the peak bone density that someone of her gender and ethnicity should have reached between ages 30 and 35, when bone density is at its highest. Many insurance programs will pay for all or part of the cost,” she said. Last year, osteoporosis caused 71,828 bone fractures in Texans, as a cost of almost $997 million. That cost is expected to accumulate to almost $11 billion over the next decade. To prevent a lot of unnecessary pain and expense, seniors and their health care providers are urged to diagnose osteoporosis early and treat the disease swiftly. Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become weak and are more likely to break. “If not prevented or if left untreated,” explained Braslow, osteoporosis can progress painlessly until a bone breaks. These fractures typically occur in the hip, spine and wrist. Any bone can be affected, but fractures of the hip and spine are especially serious.” A hip fracture almost always requires hospitalization and major surgery. It can impair a person’s ability to walk unassisted and may cause long-term or permanent disability or even death. Unfortunately, national statistics show that 10 percent to 20 percent of people with hip fractures die within six months, half cannot walk without aid and a forth require long-term care. Osteoporosis is a disease of the skeleton in which the amount of calcium present in the bones slowly decreases to the point where the bones become brittle and prone to fracture. In other words, the bone loses density. Osteoporosis is diagnosed when bone density has decreased to the point where fractures can happen with only mild stress on the bone. During childhood and adolescence, bone is formed at a faster pace than it is removed. This continues until peak bone mass is reached, usually by age 30 to 35. After age 30, bones typically lose tissue faster than it is replaced. This is particularly true for women after menopause, when estrogen production is sharply reduced. Estrogen, a hormone produced by the ovaries, has been shown to have a protective effect on bones. Preventing osteoporosis is a lifelong job. And even though there is no cure for osteoporosis, its progress can be slowed or even stopped. Adequate calcium (see chart below), vitamin D (400 IUs daily) and weight-bearing exercise such as walking, dancing and stair climbing are important for maintaining bone health. Also: ‘ Limit alcohol intake because alcohol can slow bone building. ‘ Don’t smoke; smokers have lower bone density and a higher risk for fracture. ‘ Discuss osteoporosis, prevention, diagnosis and treatment with your doctor. Consider getting a bone density test. The recommended calcium intake per day is listed for the following ages: Birth to six months’400 mg.; six months to one year’600 mg.; one to 10’800-1200 mg.; 11-24’1,200-1500 mg.; 25 to 50’1,000 mg.; 51 to 64 (women on estrogen replacement therapy and men)’1,000 mg.; 51 to 64 (women not on estrogen replacement therapy)’1,500 mg.; 65 or older’1,500 mg.; pregnant or lactating women’1,200-1,500 mg. Source: National Institute of Health For more information, call TDH’s Osteoporosis Awareness and Education Program at 1-800-242-3399, or check the TDH website at www.tdh.state.tx.us/osp/osteo.

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