Osteoporosis: a bad to the bone disease

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Dr. Elian Shepherd

The bare bone truth: People need to pay closer attention to their bone health.

Dr. Elian Shepherd, a spine specialist at Methodist Hospitals’ Southlake Campus in Merrillville, said neither patients, physicians nor the community as a whole pay much attention to osteoporosis awareness, which he says is a mistake.

“The best thing people can do is promote osteoporosis awareness in the community. It’s treatable and preventable, once you know how to prevent it,” said Shepherd, whose specialty is spine orthopedic surgery.

He called osteoporosis a “silent killer.” “Don’t treat it lightly and don’t neglect your bones until you’re 70 or 80 years old,” he said.

Most vulnerable

Shepherd said anyone could become a victim of the disease in which bones become fragile and are more likely to fracture. However, he said white women are the most vulnerable.

Individuals who have been treated for lupus and diabetes also are at risk for getting osteoporosis, he said.

According to the U.S. National Library of Science, about half of all women over the age of 50 will have a fracture of the hip, wrist, or vertebra (bone of the spine) during their lifetime as a result of osteoporosis. There are no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, the library of science stated. Many times, people will have a fracture before learning that they have the disease.

Minimizing risk

Shepherd said individuals should start prevention early; he recommends in the mid-20s, to avoid bone fractures later in life. He said prevention begins with a healthy lifestyle, which means getting the right dose of calcium and Vitamin D, exercise and good nutrition, not having more than three alcoholic drinks per day and not smoking. Once women go through menopause, he said they should have their bone mass checked as they normally will lose about 10 percent of their bone mass during this stage of life. Women need to increase their calcium and Vitamin D intake during pregnancy and while breast-feeding, he said.

“The main purpose is to prevent fractures, which would diminish your quality of life greatly as you get older,” said Shepherd, who has been at the Merrillville hospital since 1984.

He recommends women 65 and older and men 70 and older get a bone density test.

Medication treatments

There are two types of treatment for the disease. Anabolic medicines, such as teriparatide, are given by injection every day for 18 months. Shepherd said the “very minor” injection will build bone formation. Antiresorptive drugs stop the destruction of the bone and is given by injection once a month or once a year.

Shepherd said doctors can’t use both medications at the same time yet, adding doctors review the patient to determine which treatment would work best.

He said the medications can turn around osteoporosis, sometimes even when there is already a deformity caused by curvature of the spine. He said in some cases surgery is needed, but not often.

He said both medications have caused side effects in a very small percentage of people.

“It’s negligible,” he said.

Shepherd said medications are seldom given orally anymore, largely because people didn’t return for further treatments.

“Patient cooperation is very important in treatment,” he said.

More information about Methodist Hospitals’ Southlake Campus is at (219) 738-5500.