Six facts about osteoporosis

Next month, three leading osteoporosis experts will lead a discussion about bone-density medications and how a wave of misunderstanding about rare side effects may contribute to a rash of preventable hip fractures.

Bart Williams, Ph.D., of Van Andel Research Institute, Michael Jakubowski, M.D., of Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, and Sundeep Khosla, M.D., of Mayo Clinic will present at A Conversation About Osteoporosis: An Impending Public Health Crisis hosted by Carol Van Andel Nov. 15 at Van Andel Institute.

In preparation for the event, here are six facts about osteoporosis:

  • What is osteoporosis? Osteoporosis means “porous bone” and is a descriptive name for the condition of too much empty space in the mesh-like structure of bone.
  • How is it diagnosed? Physicians have several tools to evaluate bone density, although the most common and reliable is an X-ray called “DXA,” which scans the lower spine and hips and to produce a “T-score.” Anyone with a T-score of less than 2.5 is considered to have osteoporosis.
  • What causes it? There are many causes of decreased bone density. For example, women are particularly susceptible to developing osteoporosis simply because they have less bone overall and tend to lose it faster than men, thanks to menopause. Advanced age, small body size, family history and ethnicity also contribute to risk.

Dozens of underlying conditions also can cause a decrease in bone density, including autoimmune disorders, gastrointestinal and digestive diseases, cancer, mental illness and eating disorders, endocrine and metabolic disorders, organ transplantation, poor diet, and many more.

  • Whos most at risk? Postmenopausal women and men over the age of 50 are at higher risk. Some population health studies suggest that up to one-third of postmenopausal women and 20 percent of men older than 50 will suffer a fractured bone related to osteoporosis.
  • How many people have it? About 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, and another 44 million have low bone density. Worldwide, an estimated 200 million people suffer from the disease, making it a major public health crisis.
  • Is it treatable? In most cases, yes! The most common medications cannot restore bone density, but they often slow the pace of bone loss. Familiar names include alendronate (Fosamax), risedronate (Actonel), ibandronate (Boniva), and zoledronic acid (Reclast). Newer medications, like abaloparatide (Tymlos), which was approved earlier this year, may stimulate the body to rebuild bone.

Tickets for A Conversation About Osteoporosis: An Impending Public Health Crisis hosted by Carol Van Andel are $75 and can be purchased here.