Osteoporosis, Healing, and Me

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I was shocked when my doctor showed me my DEXA scan results on my bone density last month. I have had osteopenia for about 15 years, but it hadn’t progressed in all that time, and I didn’t think about it much. With this report, I realized that now is the time to address it in earnest. I knew I was at risk, being a small-boned and petite woman, but I have always been active – not so much an athlete – but athletic in my everyday lifestyle. I thought I was doing all the right things with eating healthy (most of the time),hitting the sidewalk everyday for long walks, doing yoga and tai chi, swimming, and working out with light weights.

It wasn’t a bad report. At least, I didn’t think it was. Osteopenia in both femurs, and osteoporosis in the neck of the left one, but barely over the line (only 1 percentage point) from osteopenia. My spine is still in the normal range, and I have not shrunk in height. My doctor, however, thought differently about the urgency of the matter. She began telling me about a drug I should take that would increase my bone density, and wrote out a prescription for it. I am not going to say in this blog which drug it is, but suffice it to say, it’s the go-to drug in the bisphosphonate family of pharmaceuticals. A red flag went flying up the flagpole of my brain as she explained to me that it should be taken on an empty stomach and that I would have to stay in an upright position for at least an hour after swallowing it. I had taken an antibiotic a few months ago that had the same warning. It made me extremely nauseous, and I couldn’t keep it down. I wasn’t exactly thrilled about another drug making me sick, or possibly damaging my esophagus.

I took the prescription home with me, and immediately logged onto the internet to see what I could find out. I didn’t like what I read, even though most of the papers and articles describing this drug were reassuring regarding its safety and effectiveness and the rarity of the side effects. I then went to the research databases at the university where I work part-time as a librarian. I began reading some contradicting reports, as well as learning about osteoblasts, osteoclasts, and bone remodeling. What I read didn’t exactly jive with what the medical and pharmaceutical websites said about the safety and effectiveness of this line of drugs, especially in the long-term.

From that point, I went into deeper research. I went to Facebook and I put out a request to my friends to see it they had any advice on osteoporosis. This is where the rubber hit the road. The response was phenomenal, and not good. I had over 30 friends respond to my question about this particular drug. Of those who responded, only 1 claimed that she had no problems with it, other than having to have several joint replacement surgeries during the time she has been taking the drug, which were probably not related. Others shared that they had experienced the “rare” side effects and were no longer taking the drug, due to esophageal, jaw, and bone and joint pain problems, to name a few. Many warned me not to take it.

Even this didn’t satisfy me completely, so I did a quick informal survey of the women I go to exercise class with twice a week. When I told them of my diagnosis, the overwhelming reply was, “Welcome to the club” and “Don’t take that stuff!” They agreed with my Facebook friends that this was not a good drug to take, unless it was a matter of life or death, or at the least probable fractures. They, like me, are trying their best to eat a healthy diet, exercise, and stay strong and upright. Balance is a big deal with them, as it is with me.

During this time, one of my cousins sent me a website for calcium and strontium supplements that she has been taking for a few years, with good results. Again, I jumped onto the research bandwagon and began reading about this product and similar ones, as well as about nutrition and aging. I liked what I read. It made sense. It didn’t advocate putting chemicals into my body that could harm me in one way or another, but giving my body what it needs to stay healthy.

Long story short, I decided not to go with the prescription my doctor was pushing, and ordered a supply of calcium, vitamin, and strontium supplements. My doctor agreed to go along with my plan for a year. If my DEXA scan next year is worse, then I will revisit this issue. I am confident that with my new knowledge about bones and bone health, nutrition, and all the other good information and knowledge I now possess, I’m going to be just fine.

I am 70 years old, writing about this in my blog, and if I don’t stop soon, I’ll be late for exercise class.

Gotta run!

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