womenTALK: Blog

Wednesday, May 26th 2010

Osteoporosis: Help Wanted

authored by Sheryl Kraft

When I was asked to wear an arm brace as an experiment for the Know My Bones campaign, I didn't hesitate to agree. As a child, all I wanted were two things: eyeglasses and a cast on my arm. OK, I'm not a child any longer (though some might argue otherwise), yet I still have that weird childlike wonder about the cast thing. But I should have realized this: if it is anything like the eyeglass thing, it's way overrated.

I did it for a day. I wore an "elbow immobilizer," which kept my elbow fixed and bent at a 90-degree angle. And to get the real challenge, I wore it on my dominant arm (my right). And all I can say is by the next day I was way done with wanting to wear it. I couldn't wait to take it off. It was like having one arm tied behind my back.

The most mundane things—like scratching an itch or brushing my teeth—were taken to new heights of difficulty. Washing my hair? Impossible. Driving? Not so easy. Reaching down to pick up something I dropped? Oh, that's right, I need to use my left hand—the one that is clumsy and always drops everything. When I was chilly and tried to put on a sweater, I shivered instead. And any sleepless night I've ever had paled in comparison to this one spent trying to find a comfortable position for myself.

If I were suffering from osteoporosis (a.k.a. brittle bones), and had to wear this cast for weeks as opposed to hours, I’m sure I would start to worry about the most basic, mundane activities we all take for granted. Think about it: walking down the stairs, navigating icy sidewalks, bending down to garden or play with grandkids. Simple under normal circumstances; but with brittle bones, falling - or even something as minor as sneezing - can put you in a cast, or worse, the hospital, requiring surgery from a major fracture.

Luckily, that's not the way it has to be. Just because you're a woman with postmenopausal osteoporosis, you needn't sign on for the job of suffering a fracture. If you take some precautions, you can choose another path and minimize your risk of fracture and other complications that come with the job.

Interested in applying for the job? Here are two options: 

Help Wanted—Two Opportunities

Job A: Looking for postmenopausal osteoporotic women, age 50+, to wear brace or cast to immobilize body part. History of inactivity, extra pounds and poor or no adherence to your doctor's advice a plus.

Excellent potential for long-term position with tenure and possible immobility. Focus on minimizing activities that could lead to leg, arm or wrist fractures.

Note: All levels of experience are welcome to apply; however, the following experience will put you ahead of the other applicants:

  • Lower bone mineral density
  • Previous broken bones (fracture)
  • Parent history of broken hip bone
  • Smoker
  • Use of certain medicines
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Excessive use of alcohol (3 or more drinks a day)

Job B: Looking for ambitious, detail- and future-oriented postmenopausal women, age 50+, willing to avoid fractures. Must have excellent communication skills (both written and verbal) and be willing to work closely with health care professionals.

Excellent potential for growth and continued good health and mobility.

Responsibilities include:

-  Routine, 15-minute bone density tests (every 2 years or more frequently) and thorough understanding of test results

-  Maximizing osteoporosis treatment. Must be willing to take it as directed; disclosure of not taking medications an absolute necessity.

-  Monitoring calcium intake by following National Osteoporosis Foundation guidelines: If you're an adult under age 50, you need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. If you're age 50 or older, aim for 1,200 milligrams daily.

-  Monitoring Vitamin D intake by following guidelines: If you're an adult under age 50, you need 400–800 IU (international units) of vitamin D daily. If you're 50 or older, you need 800–1,000 IU. 

Getting adequate exercise: Aim for 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercise on most days, and do strengthening exercises on each major muscle group 2 to 3 times a week.

Continuous communication with your health provider to discuss bone health goals

Which job do you want?

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Comments

Jun 29, 2010 19:Jun 7 | Carolyn Thomas said

Hi Sheryl, Very timely and

Hi Sheryl,

Very timely and interesting topic of interest to all of us Boomers!

When you suggest: "..Must be willing to take it as directed; disclosure of not taking medications an absolute necessity..." this might unfortunately imply that taking drugs (like Fosamax or Actonel) are required to PREVENT osteoporosis.

This may be misleading advice, according to a growing number of physicians and academics, including University of Toronto researcher Dr. Angela Cheung, who reported in the May 2004 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal:

“We do not recommend using drug therapy for the primary prevention of osteoporosis."

Until drugs like Fosamax or Actonel began to emerge, the standard osteoporosis treatments were calcium, vitamin D, weight-bearing exercise, and hormonal treatments, though ultimately hormonal treatments proved problematic, after the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) researchers found that estrogen posed more risks than benefits in the treatment of osteoporosis.

As you mentioned, low calcium and vitamin D intake had previously been associated with increased risk for fractures, but this now appears to be true for women over 60.

In the WHI Calcium and Vitamin D (CaD) trial, middle-aged CaD recipients showed higher bone densities but similar numbers of hip fractures. Only women who were OLDER THAN 60 saw a 21% decreased risk for hip fracture compared with placebo.

I think it's important to remind women that there are billions of dollars at stake if pharmaceutical companies can convince relatively young and otherwise healthy women to take a pill every day for the rest of their lives. And they've done a fabulous job convincing us so far. Merck's Fosamax, for example, has boasted annual sales as high as $3.2 billion.

But last week, a court in Florida ordered Merck to pay an $8 million award to a woman who claimed that taking Fosamax had caused the condition known as osteonecrosis of the jaw, or death of jawbone tissue. It's just one of 900 U.S. lawsuits pending against Fosamax. All women should be aware of these lawsuits before blithely taking Fosamax, Actonel or other osteoporosis drugs for treatment OR prevention.

More on this at: "We Never Imagined People Would Think Of Osteopenia As A Disease" on THE ETHICAL NAG: MARKETING ETHICS FOR THE EASILY SWAYED at:

http://www.ethicalnag.org/2010/02/06/osteopenia/

Thanks!
Carolyn Thomas

May 30, 2010 02:May 2 | sarah henry said

the exercise you lead with

the exercise you lead with made me think this is the peri-menopausal equivalent of those teenagers carting around sacks of flour to simulate what it's like to have a baby.

a wake-up call for the 40-plus something set. thank you.

May 29, 2010 21:May 9 | Meredith said

Wow - talk about putting

Wow - talk about putting yourself in the story. It made me think of all the elderly patients I've seen who wore immobilizers like that, or had knee replacements or hip replacements that took so much longer to heal than they thought.

May 29, 2010 18:May 6 | Vera Marie Badertscher said

Osteoporosis

Very creative approach, and brave of you to go all the way to wearing a brace.
The people falling out of bed stories emphasize that there is a genetic component,so even when people DO listen to the doctor and do things right, they may have osteo.

It is scary. And MEN need to listen to this as well as women.

Jun 01, 2010 15:Jun 3 | Sheryl said

Yes, Vera, very much a

Yes, Vera, very much a genetic component (or, I call it "luck.")

And thanks for the reminder - men DO need to listen, too, although they do suffer osteoporosis at a much lower rate than we women do.

May 29, 2010 04:May 4 | Stephanie - Wasabimon said

Osteoporosis runs in my

Osteoporosis runs in my family, so I'm very conscious of this topic - both on my mom and dad's side. My dad had his hip replaced at only 56! I'm concerned because there's an age restriction on bone density tests, unless you've got some sort of cause as seen valid by insurance companies. Lame, because this is certainly something that should be caught early.

Also, I was on steroids for a long time for a health condition, which contributes to bone loss. I had bone loss before I was 30 years old. FYI!

Jun 01, 2010 15:Jun 3 | Sheryl said

That's frustrating,

That's frustrating, Stephanie, that there's an age restriction on the bone density tests, especially with a family history. Seems to me that if you could find out sooner than later, you'd be able to take health matters into your own hands and be proactive to avoid health costs down the line.

May 27, 2010 21:May 9 | Alisa Bowman said

Really creative way to tackle

Really creative way to tackle this story. I am in awe.

May 28, 2010 10:May 10 | Sheryl said

THanks, Alisa. Really puts it

THanks, Alisa. Really puts it in black and white this way!

May 27, 2010 15:May 3 | Kristen said

I'll try to help get the word

I'll try to help get the word out too--my grandmother had osteoporosis.

May 26, 2010 19:May 7 | Alexandra said

I will tell a few friends

I will tell a few friends about this post. In my family, we are fortunate to have strong bones. ( My mom actually fell out of bed at 96 and did not break anything.)

May 27, 2010 10:May 10 | Sheryl said

That is amazing...a 96-year

That is amazing...a 96-year old who fell and didn't break anything. My own grandmother, at 80, fell down a flight of stairs in my house and amazingly didn't break a bone, either. A very scary moment, though...

May 26, 2010 18:May 6 | Jennifer Margulis said

I don't want either job! I

I don't want either job! I just want to remember to do weight bearing exercise and NOT get osteoporosis...

May 27, 2010 10:May 10 | Sheryl said

It's never too early to start

It's never too early to start the weight-bearing exercises - even if you just put your hands against the wall or on a counter and do "push-ups"

May 26, 2010 17:May 5 | marthaandme said

I can't imagine how difficult

I can't imagine how difficult wearing a cast like that would be. Thanks for these great tips.

May 27, 2010 10:May 10 | Sheryl said

I'll tell you, it really

I'll tell you, it really wasn't fun! And the thought of wearing it more than one day...well, that would make me really cranky.

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