Make no bones about it, osteoporosis is treatable

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Osteoporosis is a disease that is associated with misconceptions, the most common of which is that once a person is diagnosed with osteoporosis, his or her condition will decline and nothing will change it – however, this assumption is far from the truth. The fact is that contrary to common belief, osteoporosis is highly treatable.

A chronic disease resulting from a decline in bone mass and quality, osteoporosis is significant in Canada because, as the baby boom population grows, so does the prevalence of the disease.

Currently, about two million Canadians – or one in four women and one in eight men over the age of 50 – suffer from osteoporosis, though it can strike at any age. Known as a “silent” disease, it often goes unnoticed and without symptoms, with the first indicator frequently being a fragility fracture that happens without significant trauma to the bone, such as a fall from standing height or lower. 

To manage the growing prevalence of the disease, The Arthritis Program (TAP) at Newmarket-based Southlake Regional Health Centre is among the first in Canada to introduce an integrated osteoporosis program that brings together an interprofessional team of rheumatologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, kinesiologists, pharmacists and dietitians, who work closely with patients and their family physicians.

The program provides patients with comprehensive treatment under one roof, including regular clinics, educational workshops and exercise programs. The underlying message of the program is that there is hope for patients who are diagnosed with osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis.

According to data collected at Southlake from hundreds of patients, many osteoporosis sufferers will remain stable or even experience an improvement in bone density with a balance of proper diet, vitamin D, calcium, exercise and taking medication as prescribed. Recent advances in medicine now enable appropriate patients to receive options such as an infusion once a year or an injection twice a year, as opposed to taking pills daily, weekly or monthly to control the disease. Left untreated, however, osteoporosis leads to bone fractures, often of the hip or spine, which are debilitating and sometimes fatal.

The results of Southlake’s Osteoporosis Program speak for themselves. Since the program’s launch in 2005, the osteoporosis team has identified and treated many high risk patients who have been admitted to hospital with fragility fractures though unaware that they have osteoporosis.

To identify patients early – and prevent the decline of their conditions – Southlake has teamed up with Osteoporosis Canada to screen for at-risk patients in the hospital’s fracture clinic and guide them toward effective treatment. “Once someone has had a fragility fracture, the goal is to reduce their risk of a future fracture, including gathering information about the patient’s genetic history and lifestyle and guiding them towards help from there,” said Dr. Barbara Beauchamp, Area Manager, York Region Osteoporosis Strategy for Osteoporosis Canada.

According to Osteoporosis Canada, despite the high prevalence of fragility fractures, current data indicates that most are not appropriately assessed or treated. “Someone who has experienced a fragility fracture is likely to experience another, yet in general, fewer than 20 per cent of women and 10 per cent of men who have sustained fragility fractures receive therapies to prevent their bones from breaking in the future,” Beauchamp emphasizes.

To reduce one’s risk of osteoporosis, it’s important to take effective measures to prevent the disease, such as:

Talk to your family doctor about your genetic predisposition to the disease. If you’re prone, discuss the possibility of taking medications that reduce the risk of fractures.

Speak to your doctor about having a timely bone mineral density test.

Exercise at least 3-4 times a week, including weight-bearing, stretching and strengthening exercises.

Consume 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 800-2,000 international units of vitamin D (for adults 50 and older) daily.

Help your kids maintain good bone health up until early adulthood – when the natural decline in bone mass starts – by making sure they get enough calcium, vitamin D and physical activity.

For more information about osteoporosis and Southlake’s Osteoporosis Program, please visit The Arthritis Program link at www.southlakeregional.org. or www. Osteoporosis.ca.