Bloomington / Normal, IL

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Solving the Osteoporosis Puzzle


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

Osteoporosis, a disease that thins and weakens the bones to the point that they become fragile and break easily, is a serious, complex, poorly controlled condition that is prevalent worldwide. Many would say it is reaching epidemic proportions as it affects about half of the population aged 65 and older. The cost of consequences related to osteoporosis, such as rehabilitation, permanent disability, and death are staggering. It presents a challenge to the medical community for many reasons. It is a “silent disease” because there are no symptoms and a broken bone is often the first sign. It affects both men and women of all ages — not just the elderly. There are many causes and risk factors for the condition, including a strong genetic component. Some risk factors can be controlled, while others can’t. There is no cure, yet it is almost completely preventable.

For all of these reasons, the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis requires a multi-disciplinary approach that must be highly individualized. To further complicate the osteoporosis puzzle, there is not a medical specialty devoted to osteoporosis like cardiology that deals with heart problems, dermatology to deal with skin problems, oncology for cancer, etc. Since a broken bone is often the first symptom of osteoporosis, an orthopedic surgeon will usually be called on to fix the broken bone. The patient should always have follow-up care from their internist or primary care physician, but this sometimes doesn’t happen. The patient is released with their bone repaired, but without medical therapy for osteoporosis to prevent future fractures.

Sometimes, the follow-up care consists of instructions to take calcium and Vitamin D to help strengthen bones. Calcium and Vitamin D are important foundations for strong bones, but they are only one component of what is necessary for optimal bone health, and they can’t rebuild bone that is already lost. Furthermore, some people get adequate calcium and Vitamin D, but their bodies are not able to absorb it properly. Everyone needs to be aware of the importance of bone health, and it starts in childhood. Bone mass increases constantly from birth until about age 30 when it reaches its peak. After age 50, bone is lost faster than it is replaced, so there is a gradual decline in bone strength. If optimal bone mass was never achieved in the first place, then the bone loss later in life will be more dramatic. Many experts believe that children today have much weaker bones because they tend to eat poorly and are less active than previous generations. This means they will be more likely to develop osteoporosis as adults.

A comprehensive, whole-person, individualized approach to preventing and treating osteoporosis is crucial. The disease is almost always completely preventable by not smoking, limiting alcohol, eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of calcium and vitamin D, and engaging in regular exercise that includes some weight-bearing activity. If you have had fractures or are diagnosed with osteoporosis, there are many medication options. There is no one-size-fits-all, silver bullet approach. Everyone is different and there are too many variables to consider such as age, sex, other medical conditions, side effects, personal preference, and the severity of osteoporosis.

This is where a specialized bone health consultant can really make a difference. By working together with a patient’s primary care physician, they can develop a comprehensive, personalized plan to coordinate, manage, prevent, and treat osteoporosis, with the overarching goal of avoiding a broken bone or collapsed vertebrae. A bone health specialist can help you be actively engaged in your treatment and provide education on fall prevention, nutrition, supplements, exercise, and other lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking so that you can remain on your feet for a long and healthy life.

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.