Osteoporosis is not something that often crosses one’s mind often, but perhaps it should as it’s a growing public health issue in the Latino community.
Currently, about one in ten Latinas, over the age of 50, has osteoporosis, but one in two have low bone mass and are at risk for developing it, according to the National Institutes of Health. About 25,000 Latinos, including 15,000 women and 10,000 men, develop spinal fractures each year as a result of osteoporosis– more than twice the number of hip fractures, according to data published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, and researchers expect the number of spinal fractures to grow as the baby boomer generation continues to age.
“It’s a very silent type of process — you don’t know something is wrong until you develop a fracture,” says Dr. Orlando Ortiz of Winthrop University Hospital in New York. “For many years, they thought this was a condition that only affected whites, but time has shown that this is a disease that does not discriminate. It’s been shown in various studies that the prevalence of osteoporosis is the equivalent in the Latino population as compared to the Caucasian population in the last 10 years or so, because you have people living in the same country with the same diet and lifestyle.”
Dr. Ortiz is treating a growing wave of spinal fracture patients with a treatment called balloon kyphoplasty— a minimally invasive procedure where an orthopedic balloon is inflated inside of the fractured bone to lift and return it to the correct position. This newly created cavity is filled with thick bone cement to stabilize the fracture. As a result of the procedure, the angular deformity of the spine is corrected.
Here are tips from Dr. Ortiz on how to prevent/slow down osteoporosis:
1. Identify whether or not you have osteoporosis early on — If you are a post-menopausal female, and there’s a concern you might have it, or a male that got a wrist fracture very easily, you may need a bone density test.
2. Have a diet high in calcium early on — Women who have osteoporosis tend to have low calcium reserves. When you’re a young girl and teenager, that’s when you should be having your calcium.
3. Be active — A sedentary lifestyle is another risk factor for osteoporosis, because bones tend to be weaker and you are more frail.
4. Do not smoke and limit alcohol consumption — Osteoporosis is highly related to diet and lifestyle.
5. Develop a treatment plan — Include a diet that encourages calcium and vitamin D, as well as an exercise plan – as simple as walking. Weight management is important too.
6. Consult your doctor about the possibility of taking medication to treat osteoporosis — Some medication could reduce the amount of bone loss or delay it, thus reducing fractures in the osteoporosis population.
7. In patients who have spine fractures and who are not responding to conservative management — Pain medication, bed rest, and physical therapy is needed. If you are in severe pain, there are procedures that our now available where the broken bone can be treated, including balloon kyphoplasty.
“Osteoporosis is a disease that is not curable, but it is treatable and manageable,” says Dr. Ortiz. “You can live with it, but ignoring it is not a good choice, because it’s a silent type of disease. You can be bedridden and lose your independence…People need to take an active role. It’s like living in a house, and you don’t realize you have termites until the floor caves in.”