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Asthma and Osteoporosis

What Is Asthma?

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 foods.

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.

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The National Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that 10 million people in the U.S. have osteoporosis and nearly 34 million more have osteopenia, which puts them at greater risk for osteoporosis. Bone mineral density (BMD) is related to bone strength. BMD testing is used to diagnose osteoporosis. BMD is measured with a test called a DXA scan. By measuring BMD, doctors can predict the risk of having a bone fracture. A bone density scan, or test, should not be confused with a...

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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
  • smoking
  • 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 fracture occurs.

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.

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