Ever since you were knee-high to a grasshopper, you could count on the support of your skeleton. Perhaps you never worried about the health of your skeleton until your doctor mentioned osteoporosis. But what is this sneaky disease which attacks your bones without your knowledge.
Osteoporosis, the great mystery
You have perhaps already heard of osteoporosis, this disease known for its “silence” because it sets in quietly without any warning signs. In Canada, thousands of people suffer from fractures that temporarily or permanently deprive them of their mobility, their quality of life, or their autonomy. The big culprit of their misfortune: osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis results in a reduction of bone density, which makes your bones fragile and more vulnerable to fractures.
The bare bones
To understand the treatment of osteoporosis, you must first know about the bone’s constitution. Bones are made up primarily of collagen and minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. All through life, the bone undergoes constant restructuring. Some cells build bone tissue while other cells wear down the old bone and create cavities. It is the balance between the two processes that determines bone structure. During childhood and adolescence, we “build” our bone mass. From the mid-thirties onwards, the balance is more difficult to maintain and bone density decreases gradually. This process continues as we age.
The foremost treatment objective in osteoporosis is simple: slow down or stop the loss of bone density so that the bone remains strong and resistant for as long as possible. This helps prevent fractures and many other consequences. Osteoporosis screening, prevention, and treatment are important health issues because this is a problem that affects a large proportion of our seniors.
Osteoporosis remains a disease that is greatly under-diagnosed and under-treated despite the existence of very effective treatments.
Taking calcium and vitamin D: the basis of the treatment
For the effective treatment of osteoporosis, it must first be ensured that calcium and vitamin D intake is sufficient. Osteoporosis Canada recommends a daily intake of 1,200 mg of calcium for adults who are aged 50 and above and 1,000 mg per day for 19- to 50-year olds. It is preferable to obtain calcium from your food because this is absorbed better. If you don’t manage to reach your objective, calcium supplements are available on the market to help you fulfil your needs.
Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium. Osteoporosis Canada recommends between 800 and 2,000 units of vitamin D per day. Increased doses may be needed in case of a deficiency, if medically recommended. Your pharmacist can inform you about meeting your calcium and vitamin D needs and suggest a supplement, if required.
Drugs to treat osteoporosis
If you suffer from osteoporosis, it is very likely that your doctor will prescribe a drug regimen. But before that, you will have to undergo medical tests to assess the state of your bone health. The most commonly used test is osteodensitometry, a type of X-ray. This test is used to estimate the risk of fracture before treatment begins and subsequently to monitor the success of the treatment.
In Canada, several drugs have been approved to prevent or treat osteoporosis. They come in the form of tablets or injections. While some will have to be taken every day, others need only to be taken once a week, month, and even every six months or every year. Discuss it with your doctor and your pharmacist to identify the method of treatment that best suits you. You can also discuss the benefits and potential side-effects of each of these drugs.
If you must take drugs for your osteoporosis, here are some tips:
- Always respect the directions on the prescription label and follow the instructions that your pharmacist gives you. To work effectively, some drugs must be taken with certain precautions. For example, you may have to take your medication as soon as you get up in the morning with a big glass of water and at least 30 minutes before taking any food or other medications.
- If you experience side-effects, don’t be discouraged. These may just be temporary or there may be ways to control them. Your pharmacist is the best person to answer your questions about side-effects and advise you on the means to overcome them.
- If you have trouble remembering to take your medications at the right time, ask your pharmacist to tell you about ways to help you be more regular in your treatment.
Sticking to the treatment: a critical issue
When we start a new treatment, we’re often very keen. As time passes, we forget, and even lose interest. Because the benefits of treatment are not often felt, you may find your motivation to take your medications or go for your injections flagging. This is even more likely if you experience side-effects. If you’re not sure that the medication you are taking is beneficial for you, discuss it with your pharmacist. Find out about the advantages and disadvantages of the treatment so that you can take a clear decision. Treating osteoporosis should be a commitment that you make to yourself to have healthy bones and a healthy life.
Prevention is better than cure
Beyond medications, some lifestyle changes can contribute to osteoporosis prevention. The following are a few examples:
- Maintain a balanced diet and a healthy weight
- Reduce your consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and salt
- Avoid tobacco
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes per day
Unlike many diseases, osteoporosis is a disease that can be prevented and treated. There are a number of strategies to maintain bone health. It is up to you to be informed and keep your bones strong and healthy so that you can carry on your favourite activities for many years to come!