Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects about 15 million
Americans, more than five million of whom are under the age of 18. Asthma is
becoming more common, and African Americans are especially at risk. For a
person with asthma, everyday things can trigger an attack. These things include
air pollution, allergens, exercise, infections, emotional upset, or certain
Typical asthma symptoms include coughing, wheezing, tightness
in the chest, difficulty breathing, a rapid heart rate, and sweating. Children
with asthma often complain of an itchy upper chest or develop a dry cough.
These may be the only signs of an asthma attack.
Reality: Fractures in individuals over the age of 50 can be the first sign of weak bones from osteoporosis or low bone mass. Each year, 1.5 million older Americans suffer a bone fracture due to osteoporosis. Half of all women over 50, and a quarter of all men, will suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture sometime in their remaining life. And the problem is increasing: the surgeon general estimates that by 2020, half of all Americans over 50 will be at risk for bone fractures from osteoporosis and...
Asthma itself does not pose a threat to bone health. However,
certain medications used to treat the disease and some behaviors triggered by
concern over the disease can have a negative impact on the skeleton.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become less
dense and more likely to fracture. Fractures from osteoporosis can result in
significant pain and disability. Osteoporosis is a major health threat for an
estimated 44 million Americans, 68 percent of whom are women.
Risk factors for developing osteoporosis include:
being thin or having a small frame
having a family history of the disease
for women, being postmenopausal, having an early menopause, or not having
menstrual periods (amenorrhea)
using certain medications, such as glucocorticoids
not getting enough calcium
not getting enough physical activity
drinking too much alcohol.
Osteoporosis is a silent disease that can often be prevented.
However, if undetected, it can progress for many years without symptoms until a
The Connection Between Asthma and Osteoporosis
People with asthma tend to be at increased risk for
osteoporosis, especially in the spine, for several reasons. First,
anti-inflammatory medications, known as glucocorticoids, are commonly
prescribed for asthma. When taken by mouth, these medications can decrease
calcium absorbed from food, increase calcium lost from the kidneys, and
decrease bone formation. Doses of more than 7.5 mg (milligrams) each day can
cause significant bone loss, particularly during the first year of use.
Corticosteroids also interfere with the production of sex hormones in both
women and men, which can contribute to bone loss, and they can cause muscle
weakness, which can increase the risk of falling and related fractures.
Many asthma sufferers think that milk and dairy products
trigger asthmatic attacks, although the evidence shows that this is only likely
to be true if the person has a dairy allergy. This unnecessary avoidance of
calcium-rich dairy products can be especially damaging for children with asthma
who need calcium to build strong bones.
Since exercise often can trigger an asthma attack, many people
with asthma avoid weight-bearing physical activities that are known to
strengthen bone. Those people who remain physically active often choose
swimming as their first exercise of choice because it is less likely than other
activities to trigger an asthmatic attack. Unfortunately, swimming does not
have the same beneficial impact on bone health as weight-bearing exercises that
work the body against gravity. These exercises include walking, jogging,
racquet sports, basketball, volleyball, aerobics, dancing, and lifting