Nearly 45 million Americans are facing a major health threat. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, an estimated 10 million people living in the US today have osteoporosis, and an estimated 34 million are at risk due to low bone density. Further, while we think of osteoporosis as a “woman’s disease,” more than one quarter of the 45 million at risk are men.
Osteoporosis, characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue, leads to bone fragility and an increased vulnerability to fractures, especially of the hip, spine, and wrist. Because there are few symptoms associated with bone loss, many are unaware that they have the disease.There are ways, however, to detect low bone density, but it is not always easy to predict who will actually suffer an osteoporotic fracture.
Bone density tests can measure bone concentration in various areas of the body, and markers of bone resorption can tell if you are likely losing bone at any given time. These tests can detect low bone density and high bone breakdown before a fracture occurs and thus help identify your chances of a future fracture. They cannot, however, predict who will fracture.
Given this, everyone, even those with good bone density, would do well to maintain a strong bone-building program. While there is no way to totally reverse osteoporosis, there are ways of preventing, halting, and treating it. Because the average woman has acquired 98 percent of her skeletal mass by age 20, building strong bones during childhood and teenage years is the first line of defense. Yet even into adulthood we can gain bone and as we age it is particularity important to consider prevention, causes, treatment, and possible risk factors of osteoporosis.
In contrast to osteopenia, osteoporosis indicates a higher degree of bone loss. You are said to be “osteoporotic” when your bone density is 2.5 standard deviations below that of the ideal young person of your same sex. This would mean that only a very small percentage of young people would have the same bone density as you. This also means that by the very nature of the statistical calculations, 1.5% of all healthy young women will have “osteoporosis.” The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that some 7.8 million American women are osteoporotic today, as well as some 2.3 million men.