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Sanford Orthopedics & Sports Medicine

What do you know about osteoporosis?

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Why is bone density important to overall health?

Dr. Laura Gehrig
Laura Bruse Gehrig, MD
Weak bones decrease the ability to do daily activities and broken bones, particularly major breaks such as hip fractures, can cause disability and ongoing pain. Osteoporosis, which literally means "porous bone," is a disease that leads to fractures and breaks due to loss of bone mass and strength.

Can we increase our bone strength?

Building strong bones during childhood and adolescence is the best defense against getting osteoporosis later. Studies have shown that adolescents don't get recommended amounts of calcium and Vitamin D, which is particularly important because their bones are still growing. But it's never too late to improve bone health. Every 10 years our skeleton turns over, making new bone cells. While it is true that bone loss increases with age, particularly after menopause in women, you can take steps to prevent weakening your skeleton.

What should I do for good bone health?

Get the recommended amounts of calcium and Vitamin D in your diet. In northern latitudes like ours, Vitamin D deficiency is high because we don't get enough sunlight. Three glasses of milk a day are recommended. If you don't drink milk, then incorporate other calcium-rich foods such as cheese, yogurt, almonds and broccoli into your diet. You can also add calcium and Vitamin D supplements and consume vitamin C and D fortified foods. Regular weight-bearing physical activity, which is any activity in which your body works against gravity, is also essential. Running and walking are weight-bearing, swimming and cycling are not.

What can I do to avoid a break or fracture?

The most important step is making your home is safe. Most accidents happen in bathrooms. Be sure the floors are not wet, use a grab rail to get in and out of the shower or tub, and turn on a light in the bathroom at night. Wear shoes with support around the house. Keep floors uncluttered and remove rugs that are slippery or may cause tripping. If you are unsteady, use a cane or walker even at home.

What increases my risk of weak bones?

Lifestyle habits that contribute to weakened bones include:
  • Poor nutrition, lack of exercise, smoking and excessive use of alcohol and caffeine. Other contributing factors include family history, being female, having had an organ transplant or a history of broken bones and diseases related to the thyroid, gastrointestinal tract, liver and kidneys. Some medications can also contribute to bone loss.

When should I see a doctor?

Bone density exams are recommended for the following:

  • Postmenopausal women under age 65 with one or more risk factors for osteoporosis
  • Med ages 50—70 with one or more risk factors for osteoporosis
  • Women age 65 or older, even without any risk factors, a man age 70 or older, even without any risk factors or a woman or man after age 50 who has broken a bone.

Bone density tests are simple, painless and covered by most insurance plans and Medicare. Knowing the strength of your bones can help your physician recommend steps, and medications if necessary, to prevent additional bone loss.

Dr. Laura Bruce Gehrig is an orthopedic surgeon at Sanford Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Bismarck.


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