Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Wed, Jan. 18, 2006
By Annie Cherayil, M.D.
ANNA, a 70-year-old Russian immigrant, couldn't believe she had broken her hip. She couldn't walk after a fall when getting out of her son's car, so she called her doctor.
Anna's doctor said a contributing factor to her hip fracture was her osteoporosis, a disease she didn't even know she had.
Osteoporosis, also called the "silent disease," is a common disorder among women marked by thinning and weakening of bones. It can lead to fractures, often of the hip or vertebrae, loss of height, excess curving of the back, and back pain.
Women are at greater risk for osteoporosis because women's bones are generally less dense than men's. Osteoporosis affects some women more than others.
One task force of experts (USPSTF) recommends that women age 65 and older get special X-rays to check for osteoporosis. Women with many risk factors may benefit from testing at age 60, and from taking medications to reduce their risk.
Women who answer "yes" to five or more of the following questions are at high risk of osteoporosis, and should talk to their doctor.
There are several tests to determine a woman's level of osteoporosis. The best test is the dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) of the hip. Tests that measure the bone density in the foot are often available at drug stores and can indicate a person's probable short-term risk, but shouldn't replace the DXA.
Effective steps women can take to reduce their risk for osteoporosis include:
Osteoporosis is often painless, so many women don't know they have it until they actually break a bone. It's important to talk to your doctor about your risks and take preventive steps now to keep your bones healthy.
Dr. Cherayil practices family medicine at the Concord Health Center. Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.