A 65-year-old woman with a history of non-trauma fracture, like a ground-level fall, or cigarette smoking (because smoking reduces blood supply to the bones) is at high risk for developing osteoporosis. So is anyone of either sex who drinks more than three ounces of alcohol per day or uses steroids regularly, said Dr. Jaren Trost, senior medical director and rheumatologist at Optum New Mexico.
A bone scan is the only method to detect this silent condition before a bone fracture occurs. It’s easy to get an appointment for this test. Right now, for example, Optum is scheduling bone scans within one month per Dr. Trost.
“Women over 65 need a bone scan test every two years,” he said. “Men over 70 need one, too. Prevention is major.”
Prevention can be as simple as taking a walk every day or performing other weight-bearing exercises, like lifting light weights. Optum New Mexico’s new Community Center has weight machines that are pneumatic, meaning that they are worked by compressed air and so have a smoother motion. Weights are also set by computer so you don’t have to load plates onto the machine or insert a metal pin. The Community Center is at 4010 Montgomery Blvd. NE and is free and open to everyone over 55, whether or not you are an Optum NM member.
“Get active,” said Dr. Trost. “Walking, hiking, biking and jogging are all weight-bearing exercises. And make sure you’re eating calcium-rich foods, like greens.”
Calcium is also key to prevention, along with Vitamin D. Taking Vitamin D supplements helps calcium work in the body. Adequate intake of calcium for males ages 51-70 is 1,000 mg per day; 1,200 mg per day for females. At age 70 and over, the adequate intake for both genders is 1,200 mg, according to the National Institutes for Health. The NIH says: “All adults should consume recommended amounts of vitamin D and calcium from foods and supplements if needed. Older women and men should consult their health care providers about their needs for both nutrients as part of an overall plan to maintain bone health and to prevent or treat osteoporosis.”
“Calcium is absorbed through the foods and beverages we eat and drink, because we need it for our bones and teeth,” said Dr. Trost. “Dairy products and yogurt are the best sources, as are leafy green vegetables. Calcium supplements are fine if taken with Vitamin D, but we should get enough calcium through our diets.”
Exceptions are people who are lactose intolerant who might not get enough calcium regularly and people on some thyroid medications that can interact unfavorably with calcium.
Are the risk factors cited above the only potential pre-indicators of osteoporosis? “There are secondary causes we can rule out by just a simple blood test,” he said. A bone scan can also detect osteopoenia, which indicates a loss of bone density before osteoporosis develops.
Here’s more good news: your family physician can deal with 95 percent of the problems and test scheduling associated with osteoporosis. A specialist, such as a rheumatologist or endocrinologist, can take over if the condition is severe. “Treatment is more complex at that point,” Dr. Trost said. “There are medications that can slow – not reverse – the loss of bone and some that can actually build bone.”