The US Preventive Services Task Force has drafted of revised recommendations for osteoporosis screening. They propose women aged 65 and older be checked routinely for osteoporosis and that post-menopausal women of any age with a comparable 10-year fracture risk be screened for the disease. This is a change from the last set of guidelines put forth in 2002 that only recommended screening for the 65+ population, or 60-64 year-olds at risk.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation describes this debilitating condition as a disease
“characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue, leading to bone fragility and an increased susceptibility to fractures, especially of the hip, spine and wrist, although any bone can be affected.”
In other words, bones become weak and brittle and can break from even a minor fall – or in some serious cases, simple actions like sneezing or coughing.
Women over age 50 are at most risk for this disease, since they tend to lose up to 20 percent of their bone mass in the five to seven years after menopause. Of the 10 million Americans thought to have osteoporosis, 80 percent are female. However, NOF says this condition can strike at any age. Almost 34 million people in the US are thought to have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis.
Remember when mom told you to drink your milk? · Nearly all adult bone mass is acquired by age 18 in girls and 20 in boys. Building strong bones during childhood and adolescence can help to prevent osteoporosis later in life. NOF says everyone should:
- Get the daily recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D
- Engage in regular weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercise
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol
- Talk to your healthcare provider about bone health
- Have a bone density test and take medication when appropriate
Don’t think you need to worry? Think again. USPSTF noted that half of all post-menopausal women will have an osteoporosis-related fracture during their lifetimes. One-fourth of those will develop a vertebral deformity and 15% will experience a hip fracture. The the risk of fractures continues to increase with age.
Men aren’t off the hook either. Roughly 1 in 4 men over the age of 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture during his lifetime. However, the USPSTF said the evidence was inconclusive regarding routine screening for men.
These fractures – especially hip fractures – lead to chronic pain, disability, loss of independence, worsened quality of life, and increased mortality. I have seen the results first-hand – my mother-in-law has a serious case of this disease and first broke her hip when she was in her 50’s. Several years ago another fall led to a broken shoulder with weeks in the hospital and rehab center. She has also had vertebral fractures and now walks slightly hunched over. Her quality of life and independence has certainly gone downhill – while the bones eventually healed, she is certainly not the same person she was before the fractures.
Osteoporosis is preventable in most people. That’s good, because while the disease can be treated, it can’t be cured. So if you’re one of the millions of people with a family history or other risk factors be sure to ask your physician about screening and prevention. Yes, prevention. It’s never too late to start.
And make sure your kids drink their milk.
The USPSTF is taking public comment on this draft through early August.