Bone Density

Bone health is something that few of us wake up thinking about each day. However, at Allegheny Health Network, bone health is always a focus.

We can't feel our bones getting stronger, nor can we feel them getting weaker. In fact, osteoporosis is a silent disease until it is complicated by fractures that can occur following minimal trauma. The impact that bone loss and subsequent fractures can ultimately have on our quality of life once we’ve developed osteoporosis is significant.

Risk factors

There are many risk factors that contribute to developing osteoporosis. There are some factors that you cannot change. But there are others that you can control.

Factors you cannot change that increase your risk:

  • Gender: Women are at a much higher risk than men
  • Age: Risk increases as you get older
  • Ethnic Background: Women of Caucasian and Asian descent
  • Family History: Parents or siblings with osteoporosis or hip fractures
  • Menopause: Postmenopausal or experiencing early menopause
  • Sex Hormones: Reduced estrogen levels at menopause or during certain cancer treatments

Factors you can change to reduce your risk:

  • Eat a diet high in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Replace a sedentary lifestyle with an active one.
  • Limit drinking to two alcoholic drinks per day. Alcohol interferes with your body’s ability to absorb calcium.
  • Quit tobacco. It contributes to weak bones.

How do I know if I have osteoporosis?

There are tests that use either x-rays or sound waves to measure bone density. These tests are painless. Ask your doctor if you should be tested.

  • X-ray tests, called DXA scans, examine your spine, hip, or wrist. DXA scans use very few x-ray waves.
  • Newer sound wave tests, called ultrasounds, test your heel.

How is it treated?

There is no way to cure osteoporosis. There are things you can do to slow it down. Talk to your doctor to make a plan to keep your bones healthy.

Prescription medicines

There are prescription medicines that you can take. These medicines come as a pill, a patch or a shot (injection). Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before you stop taking your medicine.

Dietary supplements

Dietary supplements are products that people add to their diets. They include vitamins, powders, energy bars and herbs. Talk to your doctor before you take any dietary supplements. These may affect your other medicines and make you sick.

Building bones and strengthening muscles

Strong bones and muscles help you to maintain strength as you age. They also help to prevent falls. There are many exercises to build bones and strengthen muscles, including:

  • Weight-bearing exercises- Walking, dancing, hiking, stair climbing
  • Strength exercises - Free weights, elastic bands, rubber tubing, weight machines
  • Flexibility exercises - Stretching, gentle yoga
  • Balance exercises - Tai chi, standing on one leg

Preventing falls

If your bones are porous, a simple fall could cause a fracture.

A few precautions can help to prevent falls:

  • Keep a clutter-free environment
  • Install sturdy handrails on all stairs
  • Repair loose or broken flooring and torn rugs
  • Clean up spills immediately
  • Use nonskid floor wax
  • Use rubber mats in your tub or shower
  • Make sure you have enough light
  • Use night lights
  • Wear nonslip shoes

Lifestyle changes

There are lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk for osteoporosis.

Stay physically active. Do weight bearing exercise like walking.

  • Do not smoke.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • Get enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Your doctor may suggest taking calcium and vitamin pills.

To learn more about osteoporosis – important links