Common Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation About Osteoporosis:
- Osteoporosis is not a disease after all, but simply a "natural"
consequence of aging. False. Osteoporosis is a disease
and even though diseases are also "natural", we can and should do our best
to prevent, diagnose and treat them!
- Osteoporosis isn't serious enough for me to worry about.
False. Osteoporosis is potentially serious because it weakens the bones
progressively to the point that any movement -- especially a fall -- can cause
a painful, debilitating fracture of the hip, spine or other bones. It can
also lead to lost teeth. In fact, osteoporosis causes one fracture every
20 seconds in the US. Hip fractures account for nearly as many deaths in
the US as all auto fatalities.
- I'm healthy and I take good care of myself. I can't be at risk.
False. Unfortunately, osteoporosis often affects people with no particular
risk factors and with no particular symptoms. The only way to diagnose osteoporosis
for sure (or to rule it out) is with a bone density test. One in two women
and one in eight men have a lifetime risk of developing fractures from osteoporosis.
- I'm too young to worry about osteoporosis now. You may be
too young to worry, but you're not to young to take preventive action. Osteoporosis
is a "disease of pediatrics manifested in geriatrics". Young people need
to have an adequate dietary calcium intake and start good lifetime exercise
habits to build an optimal bone mass. Other preventive behaviors for osteoporosis
are health habits that prevent many other diseases as well: avoiding smoking
and drinking too much alcohol.
- I'll worry about osteoporosis after menopause. Primary prevention-preventive
measures started before the disease begins-is the most effective weapon against
osteoporosis. This means getting an adequate calcium intake and doing sufficient
weight-bearing exercise in the premenopausal years. It may also mean taking
hormone replacement therapy in early menopause or birth control pills in late
- I'm too old to do anything about osteoporosis now. False.
Just as you're never too young to start osteoporosis prevention strategies,
you're never too old to take action to prevent it from getting worse. It's
never too late to improve lifestyle habits and it's never too late to begin
treatment with one of the several medications available.
- Why bother making a diagnosis? There is no satisfactory treatment
and no hope for a cure. False. Several medical interventions
are now available both to prevent and to treat osteoporosis. FDA-approved
In addition, we know that menopausal women should have a total dietary intake
of calcium of 1,500 mg per day and that Vitamin D supplementation is very important
in women who don't get at least 20 minutes of exposure to the sun per day.
We have also learned a lot about the preventive and therapeutic benefits of
- conjugated estrogens with or without progesterone (Premarin®, Prempro
(R) )-prevention and treatment.
- other estrogen preparations approved for prevention: Estrace®, Estraderm®;
Ogen ®, Estratab (R)
- selective estrogen-receptor modulators or "SERMs" (Raloxifene®)
- calcitonin-salmon (Miacalcin®).
- biphosphonates (Fosamax®, Actonel (R))
- Only "old ladies" get osteoporosis. Most patients with osteoporosis
are postmenopausal women, generally over age 55. In today's society, that's
hardly considered old! Interestingly, osteoporosis at any age makes its patients
appear older than those of the same age with better posture. Contrary to
this myth, osteoporosis also affects men (approximately one in five patients
with osteoporosis is male), younger women who have had their ovaries removed,
younger patients with various diseases from respiratory illnesses to anorexia,
patients who take chronic steroids, and astronauts.
- Little old ladies are supposed to look hunched over. Nonsense!
- There's nothing you can do about osteoporosis once you have it.
Once osteoporosis is diagnosed, medications can be started to halt
further bone loss and further degeneration. As with any condition, early
diagnosis is the key to the most successful outcomes.
- Osteoporosis doesn't kill anyone. False. Of those with hip
fractures from osteoporosis, one in four will die prematurely within one year.
More Americans die from complications of hip fractures than from auto accident
- My mother didn't have it; why should I worry about it? While
you would be at increased risk if your mother did have it, you can't bet that
if she didn't have it, you won't. Chances are, your mother may have had osteoporosis
without being diagnosed. The tools at our disposal are much more sophisticated
than those available even 10 years ago. Chances are also that you will live
longer than your mother, thus increasing the odds that you may be affected
by osteoporosis. You may also have other risks that your mother didn't. Besides,
half of your genes are from your father.
- Women of color aren't at risk for osteoporosis. This mistaken
belief comes from the common statement that Caucasian and Asian women are
at increased risk. African American and Hispanic women are still at
risk when they go through menopause, just a little less than other groups.
- I always drank milk; I have nothing to worry about. Four
eight-ounce glasses of milk per day in childhood and adolescence is
worth more than 32 ounces of prevention, but it's not the only factor. Keep
drinking milk, but speak to your physician about other preventive measures
you should take and whether you need a bone mass measurement test.
Click here for more information on osteoporosis.
Created: 5/8/2001  - Donnica Moore, M.D.
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