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Osteoporosis: Know Your Risk
By Dr. Anita Uppal

Do you or someone you love suffer from osteoporosis or osteopenia? Osteoporosis is called a silent condition for a reason ó you may have it and not even know it. The condition often has no visible, physical symptoms until you break a bone.

Osteopenia is a condition in which a personís bone mineral density is lower than normal, but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. Both diseases involve the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density over time. While the symptoms are virtually undetectable, patients have options to screen for and prevent the conditions before their onset.

High risk for osteoporosis and osteopenia are associated with people who smoke; have inflammatory bowel disease, hyperthyroidism or hyperparathyroidism; or who use medications such as glucocorticoids, anti-seizure medications or thyroid replacement drugs. If you have a petite frame, are of Asian background, or have a family history of osteopenia or osteoporosis, you may also be at risk. If you fall into one of these categories, talk to your primary care doctor. Discussing your personal and family health history will help your doctor determine whether you need a special bone density screening test, called a DEXA scan.

A woman typically reaches her peak bone mass in her 30s, but no matter your age, you can work to prevent osteoporosis and osteopenia. The two factors that most impact bone health are good nutrition and adequate physical activity. Eat a healthy diet and perform frequent weight-bearing exercise like lifting weights, hiking, stair-climbing or jogging. Incorporate calcium and vitamin D into your diet. In order for your body to effectively absorb and use calcium, you must have enough vitamin D. Vitamin D sources include sunlight exposure, fortified foods and supplements. When taken in conjunction with calcium, an average daily dose of 1,000 IUs of a vitamin D supplement will help you maintain optimum bone health. Women over the age of 50 will benefit from 1,200 mg a day of calcium, either from diet or supplements.

At your next annual checkup, ask for a blood test to check vitamin D levels. If you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia, maximize your vitamin D and calcium intake, avoid smoking and stay active.

Anita Uppal, M D., is board-certified in internal medicine. She practices at Sandpoint Internists.

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