According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, about 44 million Americans have osteoporosis, defined as low bone mass or thinning of the bones. Osteoporosis puts people at high risk of developing serious fractures. There are concerns that as our population ages, there will be a large increase in the number of people with osteoporosis in the next 15 years.
Marshall says the following are common myths about osteoporosis:
A lot of people think that osteoporosis is an inevitable part of the aging process, but that's not true, according to Marshall. There are some things you can do early on to reduce your chances of getting osteoporosis, such as eating a diet high in calcium and vitamin D, doing weight-bearing exercises and avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol. Talk to your doctor about getting a bone density test, especially if you're at high risk. People at high risk include those with a family history of osteoporosis, people who don't get enough calcium and vitamin D in their diet, and people who smoke or drink to excess.
When most people think of osteoporosis, they think of older white women. But the disease does not discriminate. At least 2 million men in America have it and another 12 million are at risk. In fact, men over 50 are more likely to get a fracture related to osteoporosis than prostate cancer. Studies have shown even though it's more common among whites and Asians, it certainly also can afflict African Americans and Latinos. And don't assume you're not at risk if you're young - osteoporosis can develop at any age.
Marshall says this just isn't true. Every year, more than a million and a half people with osteoporosis have fractures. Fractures take a long time to heal, and they can lead to permanent disability, especially among the elderly. Some elders who have fallen and broken a hip also get pneumonia, which can have serious consequences.
Most people with osteoporosis don't have any symptoms and may not know they have the disease until they have a fracture. It's a silent illness that progresses slowly over time. Marshall says one thing to look out for is loss of height over time, so you may want to consider measuring your height every year and reporting to your doctor even a slight decrease in height.
Marshall says this is a myth because calcium supplements, vitamin D and weight-bearing exercises can help treat osteoporosis. There are also a number of medications on the market, and not only hormone replacement therapy, that can help prevent further bone loss and even replace some lost bone mass.