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More than 10 million Americans have osteoporosis – a gradual thinning and weakening of the bones – and another 44 million have low bone density. This means half of all adults over 50 are at an increased risk of bone fracture.

Despite these numbers, most don’t realize they are at risk until they suffer a broken or fractured bone. Often called a “silent killer” because you cannot feel your bones getting weaker, osteoporosis is a serious risk for both women and men as they age.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, a woman’s risk of fracture is equal to her combined risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer. In addition, 24% of hip fracture patients age 50 and over die in the year following their fractures.

The good news is osteoporosis is not an inevitable part of aging.

There are steps you can take to help prevent the disease and things you can do to slow further bone loss after diagnosis. Particularly those with certain risk factors should take precautions to support bone health.

Osteoporosis can strike at any age, but it is most common among in older adults, particularly white and Asian women. However, the idea this is a “woman’s disease” is a myth – men do develop osteoporosis. Studies show up to one in four men over the age of 50 will break a bone due to the disease.

Other factors include those who: have family history of broken bones or osteoporosis; have broken a bone after the age of 50; had their ovaries removed before periods stopped or experienced early menopause; have a small frame (these individuals have less bone mass to draw from as they age); smoke; and have used certain medications, such as those for arthritis, corticosteroids and cancer.

Experts recommend the following to help support bone health:

• Eating a balanced diet. Studies have shown eating the recommended daily intake of 0.4 grams per pound of body weight increases bone mineral density

• Include physical activity as part of your daily routine, particularly weight-bearing exercises such as walking, dancing, or running

• Get the right amount of calcium – 1,000 mg for those under 50, and 1,200 mg for those over 50

• Ensure adequate vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Discuss with your physician if you should consider taking a vitamin D supplement

• Quit smoking and manage alcohol consumption.

Bone density tests are recommended for all women over the age of 65, and for younger women at a high risk for developing osteoporosis. If your test indicates you have osteoporosis, or if you have significant risk factors, you should consult your physician to see if adding an osteoporosis medicine is right for your treatment plan. And, if you begin to notice the early warning signs of osteoporosis – height loss, receding gums, stooped shape or lower back pain – be sure to talk with your doctor as soon as possible.

Dr. Matthew Levy writes about orthopedics for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is an orthopedic surgeon at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center and practices in Solon, Independence and downtown Cleveland.

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