As Carol Harvey was heading to the theater on a winter’s day, she stepped on a piece of ice and went flying before falling to the ground.
She escaped with a massive concussion, which was fortunate because Harvey is among the millions of Canadians diagnosed with osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones.
Diagnosed about two decades ago, at age 60, Harvey didn’t know the disease was affecting her bone density because she didn’t know she had it. Her doctor made the diagnosis with a scan, putting her on a simple but committed plan to keep him under control.
“I just made a few small lifestyle adjustments like giving up swimming and starting to walk, which was easy because I already had a dog,” Harvey explains.
One in three women and one in five men will be diagnosed with osteoporosis.
“It’s very common,” says Dr. Famida Jiwa, President and CEO of Osteoporosis Canada. “Two million Canadians are affected by osteoporosis.”
The disease creeps in, causing damage silently, often long before a diagnosis is made – earning its nefarious reputation as ‘the silent thief’.
“It’s the kind of disease that unfortunately doesn’t show symptoms until someone breaks a bone,” says Jiwa. “Bone loss occurs without symptoms and usually just becomes weaker structurally.”
People are better positioned if they know what puts them at risk, which ranges from being over age 50 to a history of a previous fracture (especially over age 40), a parent with a hip fracture, and being female.
Armed with knowledge about personal vulnerability, people can make lifestyle changes.
This includes not smoking or drinking to excess, getting enough calcium and vitamin D, and performing weight-bearing exercise, which involves anything standing where you are applying compressive force to the bone.
When people save and plan for retirement, breaking a hip is not part of the plan, although unfortunately for some with this illness it can be something they have to deal with. That’s why Osteoporosis Canada offers practical resources and emotional support to Canadians from coast to coast.
“When we talk about a diagnosis, it can be devastating for people, particularly (when it is) more life impacting, once they are diagnosed after the fracture and suddenly their ability to carry out their daily activities is compromised,” says Jiwa. . “With the aging demographic, I feel that osteoporosis will become an even more important health issue to address…
Jiwa says reducing the disease’s impact also depends on more education for the general public and healthcare professionals to ensure men and women are screened for bone health.
“Men are significantly underdiagnosed and undertreated,” she says. “People don’t usually think of men when they think of osteoporosis.”
The DEXA scan, which measures bone density, is just one approach in a comprehensive risk assessment that, over the decades, has changed to include additional tools.
“During my time at Osteoporosis Canada, I saw many changes, particularly the trend towards fracture risk assessment and the identification of people at higher fracture risk,” says Jiwa.
Treatment can range from lifestyle changes to therapeutic options, and she says the disease’s progress can be slowed down with a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, as well as weight-bearing exercise and medication if indicated.
While Harvey takes care to avoid falling, does regular weightlifting exercises and takes calcium supplements, his focus is on embracing life despite his illness.
“I do a lot of hiking and have done some great hikes as a result,” she says.
Later this year, she and her husband will embark on a week-long hike to Hadrian’s Wall in the UK, where they will walk up to 22 kilometers a day.
To learn more about your risk of osteoporosis, take the test at osteoporosis.ca/risk.
This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division.