An estimated 54 million Americans have osteoporosis or low bone density, which is a factor for osteoporosis.¹ Despite this, osteoporosis often goes untreated, particularly among vulnerable populations. Educating your patients on osteoporosis prevention and management will help to encourage treatment adherence and improve outcomes.
The following are some of the more pervasive myths you can discuss with your patients.
MYTH 1: You only have to worry about osteoporosis when you’re older.
Osteoporosis and weak bones are often associated with the elderly, and age can put individuals at increased risk. However, individuals should be aware of osteoporosis risk at younger ages. If a patient has a family member who experienced an osteoporosis-related fracture or if he or she has sustained a fracture, recognition of the need to preserve bone health is warranted. Cigarettes and heavy alcohol consumption, a sedentary lifestyle, being underweight, vitamin D deficiency, and going through menopause before age 45 are all osteoporosis risk factors that are not age dependent.²
MYTH 2: Only older White women are at risk of developing osteoporosis.
Older White women may be more likely to get osteoporosis, but they are far from the only ones who will. This may be because men aren’t experiencing the menopause-based bone density loss that women do, but by age 65 most men begin losing bone mass at the same rate as women.³ People can develop osteoporosis regardless of age, sex, or race.
MYTH 3: Drinking milk prevents osteoporosis.
Drinking milk can help you get your daily calcium intake, as can consuming other dairy products like cheese and yogurt and nondairy foods including almonds, kale, and broccoli. Calcium is vital to bone mass; 1000 mg/d of calcium is recommended for women age 50 or younger, and 1200 mg/d is recommended for women aged 51 and older.⁴ However, patients should be reminded that ensuring the recommended calcium intake is only one component of maintaining healthy bone mass. Calcium-rich foods should be eaten in tandem with an active, nonsedentary lifestyle free of excessive tobacco and alcohol.
MYTH 4: Patients with osteoporosis will have symptoms.
A frustrating component of osteoporosis is that without prior bone density testing, you likely won’t know you have developed it until you sustain a fracture. Even minor fractures can cause lasting damage to the body. Bone densitometry is helpful for early detection of osteoporosis and may be recommended for patients at an advanced age or if they have other significant risk factors like early menopause.
MYTH 5: Patients cannot slow down the effects of osteoporosis.
Although osteoporosis cannot be fully reversed, it can still be managed in a way that lets patients live active and productive lives. Maintaining the recommended calcium/vitamin D intake, keeping active, and making lifestyle changes (like smoking cessation) can help minimize damage to the bones. Fall-proofing the house can also help limit damage; recommended fall-proof methods include having handrails on both sides of the staircase, avoiding small area rugs, keeping electric cords out of walking areas, and placing light switches at each end of a long hall.⁵ Therapy that either slows bone resorption or stimulates bone formation is an effective treatment option for osteoporosis.
- What is osteoporosis and what cause’s it? National Osteoporosis Foundation. https://www.nof.org/patients/what-is-osteoporosis/. Accessed January 21, 2021.
- Osteoporosis. HealthyWomen. https://www.healthywomen.org/condition/osteoporosis. Accessed January 21, 2021.
- Osteoporosis in men. NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/men. Updated October 2018. Accessed January 21, 2021.
- Calcium and vitamin D. National Osteoporosis Foundation. https://www.nof.org/patients/treatment/calciumvitamin-d/. Updated February 26, 2018. Accessed January 21, 2021.
- Fall-proofing your home. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/fall-proofing-your-home. Updated May 15, 2017. Accessed January 21, 2021.