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Four Misconceptions About Osteoporosis

  November 02, 2017

Submitted by Elizabeth Madlem, APN, The Bone Health Clinic at Millennium Pain Center

No bones about it, osteoporosis — bone loss — is a serious disease. It is largely preventable by leading a healthy lifestyle that includes proper nutrition and exercise. However, there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding surrounding osteoporosis that often keeps people from taking the necessary steps to prevent and treat this disease. Following are some of the most common misconceptions that I hear from patients.

Osteoporosis is the same thing as osteoarthritis
I can’t believe how often people confuse these two terms. While they do sound similar, they are completely different conditions. Osteoporosis is a disease that thins and weakens the bones to the point that they become fragile and break easily. It is often called a “silent disease” because it usually progresses without any symptoms until a fracture occurs or one or more vertebrae collapse. Osteoarthritis is a joint disease, the most common form of arthritis, which mostly affects cartilage. People with osteoarthritis often have joint pain and reduced motion. Joint replacement surgery is often needed to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis. Osteoporosis is not painful, which is why many people do not realize that they have the disease!

Only old people get osteoporosis
It is true that osteoporosis is most often diagnosed in older people, usually after a fracture occurs. However, bone loss happens gradually over a long period of time. Healthy bones form during childhood, with the majority of bone density established before kids reach their 20s.

Bone mass peaks by the late 20s for most people, which means that bones have reached their maximum strength and density. Bone is living tissue, and childhood is a critical time to focus on bone health and establish good habits that support skeletal wellness throughout life.

We are now seeing signs of osteoporosis in people younger than 30! They did not get enough exercise or calcium when they were kids.

There are also certain medical conditions that may cause osteoporosis to form in younger people. These conditions include, but are not limited to, gastrointestinal disorders such as celiac disease (gluten intolerance), autoimmune disorders such as Crohn’s disease, breast cancer, and eating disorders such as anorexia. These medical conditions contribute to bone loss because they often cause the body to have trouble absorbing nutrients needed for strong bones. In addition, the medications used to treat some of these conditions causes increased risk of bone loss.

Only women get osteoporosis
Osteoporosis develops less often in men than in women, but an estimated 10 to 25 percent of men develop osteoporosis during their lifetime. Because men have larger skeletons, their bone loss starts later and progresses more slowly. Unlike women, men in their fifties do not experience a period of rapid hormonal change that contributes to bone loss. But by age 65 or 70, men and women are losing bone mass at the same rate, and the absorption of calcium decreases in both sexes. Osteoporosis in men is often caused by other diseases, medications, or lifestyle behaviors. These include exposure to glucocorticoid medications, low levels of testosterone, treatment for prostate cancer, alcohol abuse, smoking, and gastrointestinal disease. One other point worth noting is that while hip fractures are especially dangerous in both men and women,  men who sustain hip fractures are more likely than women to die from complications.

Taking calcium will “fix” osteoporosis
First of all, it’s important to understand that calcium and Vitamin D go hand in hand. No matter how much calcium you consume, it cannot be absorbed and processed by the body without an adequate supply of Vitamin D. Calcium and Vitamin D are important for building strong bones so that you are less likely to lose bone later in life. Osteoporosis cannot be reversed — no matter how much calcium you take! It is possible to rebuild bone to a certain extent, but not back to the original strength. The goal of treatment, which includes Calcium and Vitamin D, is to prevent fractures by stopping further bone loss and minimizing risk for falling.

Osteoporosis is considered to be a global public health problem and is estimated to affect half of all Americans over age 50, but it is not a natural and unavoidable part of aging. There are many things you can do to keep this “silent” disease from creeping up on you including proper nutrition and exercise. Fortunately, testing and treatments are available so you can protect yourself and those you care about. Talk to your healthcare provider about your risk factors and ways to minimize bone loss and keep your bones healthy and strong.

For more information on osteoporosis, you may contact The Bone Health Clinic at Millennium Pain Center, 309-662-4321. They have a new location at 2406 East Empire St. in Bloomington, next to Orthopedic & Sports Enhancement Center. Elizabeth Madlem is a certified bone health consultant. The clinic provides screening, diagnosis, and a comprehensive treatment plan for people who have or are at risk of developing osteoporosis.

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November 02, 2017


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