HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

Osteoporosis: A Growing Epidemic

Posted on | December 8, 2008 | No Comments

It’s time to get this serious health issue under controlMost of us have heard about osteoporosis, but we’re about to start hearing a lot more. That’s because the incidence of osteoporosis is sharply rising as populations age in the United States and around the world. This growing epidemic will have major implications for our society, especially in homes where older women act as caregivers. The good news is that osteoporosis is a treatable condition, and some health organizations are already taking action.

Osteoporosis is a progressive skeletal disease characterized by bone loss, with a consequent increase in bone fragility and susceptibility to fracture. It currently affects more than 75 million people in Europe, Japan, and the United States alone. But what is especially alarming about osteoporosis is its projected growth worldwide. In the past decade, the number of osteoporotic hip fractures has quadrupled. By 2040, the number of people over age 65 is expected to double, so the number of hip fractures will certainly continue to skyrocket as well.

Osteoporosis is especially common in white and Asian women over 50. The risk factors for osteoporosis are well known. They include being female, over 50, having low estrogen, being thin, having low bone mass, having a history of fragility fractures in yourself or a family member, having poor nutrition and other factors.

Of these, being a female over 50 presents an important area of concern. Statistics show that women in this age group continue to play an important role as caregivers for aging parents, ill spouses and others, and osteoporosis can add an extra burden to this role.

Osteoporotic fractures caused by falls are another key area that needs our attention. Because their bones are weaker, people with osteoporosis are at a greater risk of injuring themselves when they fall. By 2050, it is expected that 6.3 million people will suffer hip fractures worldwide.

Clearly, osteoporosis is manageable, and fractures are avoidable — but we should be much more proactive in addressing the problem. First, since sound bones are established early in life, it is crucial to have proper early nutrition, high intake of calcium and vitamin D, and plenty of weight-bearing exercise. Second, healthy adult lifestyles including exercise, excluding smoking, and practicing modest alcohol use are preventative. Third, if you’re 50 and a woman with risk factors, you need a bone density scan. Fourth, if you suffer a hip, wrist, or back fracture, you require a complete evaluation for osteoporosis. Finally, more research and education is essential.

Osteoporosis has been out of sight and out of mind for too long. It’s time to get it under control.

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