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Osteoporosis: Should You Be Tested?

The top seven uncured diseases in our country include heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, depression, diabetes, and osteoporosis.  Each of these diseases affects millions of American women, in percentages generally greater than they affect men.  Osteoporosis provides the most striking example: 8 out of 10 of the 25 million Americans affected by osteoporosis are women, most of whom are over age 50. 

The word "osteoporosis" simply means "porous bones".  It is an age-related disease associated with a gradual thinning and weakening of the bones.  This can lead to an increase in fractures, usually in the spine, hip or wrist.  It basically has two root causes- not building enough bone in the first place and loss of bone later in life, generally from the decreased estrogen of menopause.  

Osteoporosis is often called "the silent disease" because it does not have any symptoms until fractures occur.  Patients may then experience pain to varying degrees and notice stooped posture (Dowager's hump) or decreased height.  Tooth loss can also be related. The most serious consequences of osteoporosis are fractures: one in 2 white women and one in 3 women of color over 50 will have an osteoporosis related fracture in their lifetime.  Osteoporosis causes over 1.3 million fractures per year.  Most of these are spinal fractures, yet most women surveyed in a recent study don't even realize that osteoporosis causes spinal fractures.  The most serious osteoporotic fractures are of the hip- these are risky, costly, and disabling.  While most Americans know someone who has had a hip fracture, most don't realize that osteoporosis is often the cause.  Most also don't realize that these are much more serious than other fractures- of those patients with hip fractures, one in four will die within one year.  Of the remainder, one in five will never again be able to live independently.  The NOF estimates that the economic impact of not treating osteoporosis is apr. $13 billion per year.

A recent survey showed surprisingly low levels of general information about osteoporosis among women over 45.  Nearly half of all women surveyed say they know "only a little" or "nothing at all" about osteoporosis.  Even more disappointing is that 4 out of 10 of these women have never discussed osteoporosis with their physician-even though they were at increased risk for the disease.  Furthermore, too many myths, misconceptions, and misinformation, and prevail about this condition.

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