Every Halloween, spooky skeleton sightings offer a friendly reminder to take stock of our own bones. Bone health is an important part of overall health, especially as we age, and contributes heavily to our quality of life. Bones allow us to move and protect our organs, so it’s important to protect our bones, especially from common and preventable diseases such as osteoporosis.
Although osteoporosis can occur in males, it is most common in females. The risk for osteoporosis increases during the transition into menopause, as hormone imbalances accelerate bone loss and bones weaken. Osteoporosis puts people at risk of serious fractures (breaking a bone) such as a hip, wrist or spine, even with minor falls or trauma.
Our bones are constantly breaking down and rebuilding. There are cells in our bones that work to remove old bone, and then cells to replace this by making new bone. Until about our 30s, this process is well balanced. However, as we get older, we are unable to make enough bones to keep up with bone loss.
Osteoporosis is generally asymptomatic, meaning you do not “feel” anything to tell you your bones are weak. You may not know you have it until you break a bone. It is recommended to be tested for osteoporosis starting at the age of 65 for most females and after the age of 70 in males. However, there are certain health conditions and medications (such as steroids) that may mean you should be tested earlier. Thus, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider about when you should be screened for it.
Screening can be done with a bone density scan called a DEXA scan and can tell you if you have weak bones that may put you at increased risk of fracture. Another way to test bone density is with an Achilles Heel Scanner, which uses sound waves to test the bone density of your heel and takes less than 5 minutes. The heel is measured because its bone is similar to that found in the spine and hip, where osteoporotic fractures occur most often.
There are ways to help prevent osteoporosis, as well as lifestyle changes that may help to treat osteoporosis if you are diagnosed. Weight-bearing exercise (such as walking and yoga) can help keep your bones strong. It is recommended to perform such exercise about 30 minutes a day at least five days a week. You should also avoid smoking, excessive alcohol, and ensure you are getting enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet or in a supplement after discussing with your doctor.
If osteoporosis is diagnosed, there are medications available that can help to either build more bone or prevent further bone loss. These medications all help reduce your risk of breaking a bone. You should also make adjustments to help reduce your risk of breaking a bone, such as avoiding heavy lifting, using a walking aid (cane or walker) if you are unsteady on your feet, wearing sturdy shoes, and removing tripping hazards such as rugs from your home.
Don’t let osteoporosis be a surprise. You can manage your risk by getting screened at the recommended age and building healthy lifestyle habits that may prevent bone loss. Have a Happy Halloween!
– Leah Krull, MD is a board-certified Rheumatologist and sees patients alongside Leah Walsh, NP at Barton Rheumatology. Discuss possible heightened risk factors of osteoporosis with your primary care provider, who can refer you to a rheumatology specialist or may recommend early screening. For more information about Barton Rheumatology, visit BartonHealth.org/Rheumatology.
Your Rheumatology Care Team
Leah Krull, MD earned her Doctor of Medicine degree at the University of South Florida College of Medicine after completing a Masters of Science degree in Biophysics and Physiology at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. She moved to Lake Tahoe in 2018 with her husband, fellow Barton Health medical provider, and Tahoe Orthopedics & Sports Medicine physician, Dr. Jeffrey A. Orr. She enjoys being outdoors and taking in Lake Tahoe’s scenery while boating, hiking, and doing anything outdoors with her two daughters. Dr. Krull is passionate about helping the community be healthy, active, and manage their health conditions. She takes a whole-body approach to treating patients and empowers them to balance their disease with medication and lifestyle changes that improve health and quality of life.
Leah Walsh, NP grew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania for her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. After graduation, she started a nursing career at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. With a deep love for travel and exploring new places, Leah decided to pursue a travel nursing role. From Seattle to Maui and even a stint in South Lake Tahoe, she loved living in different cities and working at great hospitals in different parts of the US. During her travels, she was inspired by many nurse practitioners that encouraged her to pursue further education. Now, as a nurse practitioner herself, she has chosen to settle down at Barton Health, providing Rheumatology services to the Lake Tahoe community.