Our community is facing a health crisis that rarely is mentioned in the newspaper or on television. Across the country, this crisis results in more than 432,000 hospital admissions, 2.5 million medical office visits, and 180,000 nursing home admissions each year.

Osteoporosis, a progressive disease of low bone mass, bone deterioration, and fractures, affects more than 10 million Americans, and it is estimated that as many as 30 million Americans are at high risk for developing osteoporosis. The World Health Organization has declared osteoporosis as second only to cardiovascular disease as a leading health care crisis. Despite all this, osteoporosis and low bone mass are under-diagnosed and under-treated in both men and women.

This crisis is compounded by the fact that osteoporosis is a silent disease — one without any symptoms at all — until a large enough percentage of bone has been lost that a person sustains an osteoporosis-related fracture, also known as a fragility fracture. And fragility fractures are much more common than most people know.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, half of all women over the age of 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis. That is higher than the rates of heart attack, stroke, and breast cancer combined. And men are not spared the effects of bone loss either — one in four men will also have an osteoporosis-related fracture, and men older than 50 are more likely to break a bone as a result of osteoporosis than they are to get prostate cancer.

How do we know who is at risk for developing osteoporosis? While all people are at risk for developing osteoporosis, it is well known that postmenopausal Caucasian women have the highest risk.

However, there are many other risk factors for osteoporosis, and many of them involve lifestyle choices that can be modified before bone loss becomes severe. Routine testing of bone density is recommended for both men and women, and the start of routine bone density measurements should be based on an individual’s specific risk factors.

Despite the seriousness of the issue of bone loss, there is good news. Osteoporosis and low bone mass have never been more treatable. Adequate calcium and vitamin D intake, a healthy diet, reducing or eliminating certain risk factors, and communicating with your health care provider about your bone health and specific risks are all ways to prevent the progression of this disease. However, once significant bone loss or a fragility fracture have occurred, calcium and vitamin D supplementation and healthy lifestyle alone are not enough to slow the progression of osteoporosis, and prescription medication is needed.

The “To Your Health” lecture series at Oconee Regional Medical Center will address these and other important osteoporosis-related issues at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 18. Topics on tap include:

— Risk factors for low bone mass, osteoporosis and

fracture.

— The prevalence of low bone mass and osteoporosis in our community.

— Tests used in the diagnosis of low bone mass and

osteoporosis.

— An overview of treatment options for low bone mass and osteoporosis.

— The importance of calcium and vitamin D in bone health.

— How to protect your bones and prevent osteoporosis.

— Osteoporosis is a progressive and potentially debilitating, even fatal, disease. It also is a preventable and very treatable disease, and it is up to patients and health care providers to be aware of its seriousness and become proactive to preserve bone health. Please plan to attend this program and find out how to protect yourself from the potentially devastating effects of osteoporosis.

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