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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis Management Strategies

Strategies for preventing and treating osteoporosis in people with rheumatoid arthritis are not significantly different from the strategies for those who do not have the disease.

Nutrition: A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is important for healthy bones. Good sources of calcium include low-fat dairy products; dark green, leafy vegetables; and calcium-fortified foods and beverages. Also, supplements can help ensure that the calcium requirement is met each day.

Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium absorption and bone health. It is synthesized in the skin through exposure to sunlight. While many people are able to obtain enough vitamin D naturally, older individuals are often deficient in this vitamin. This is partly because they spend limited time outdoors. Such individuals may require vitamin D supplements in order to ensure an adequate daily intake.

Exercise: Like muscle, bone is living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. The best exercise for your bones is weight-bearing exercise that forces you to work against gravity. Some examples include walking, climbing stairs, lifting weights, and dancing.

Exercising can be challenging for people with rheumatoid arthritis, and it needs to be balanced with rest when the disease is active. However, regular exercises such as walking can help prevent bone loss and, by enhancing balance and flexibility, can also reduce the likelihood of falling and breaking a bone. Exercise is also important for preserving joint mobility.

Healthy lifestyle: Smoking is bad for bones as well as the heart and lungs. Women who smoke tend to go through menopause earlier, triggering earlier bone loss. In addition, people who smoke may absorb less calcium from their diets. Alcohol can also negatively affect bone health. Those who drink heavily are more prone to bone loss and fracture, because of both poor nutrition and an increased risk of falling.

Bone density test: Specialized tests known as bone mineral density (BMD) tests measure bone density in various sites of the body. These tests can detect osteoporosis before a fracture occurs and predict one’s chances of fracturing in the future. A person with rheumatoid arthritis, particularly someone who has been receiving glucocorticoid therapy for 2 months or more, should talk to his or her doctor about whether a bone density test is appropriate.

Medication: Like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis has no cure. However, there are medications available to prevent and treat osteoporosis. Several medications (alendronate, risedronate, ibandronate, raloxifene, calcitonin, teriparatide, and estrogen/hormone therapy) are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent and treat osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Alendronate is also approved for use in men. For women and men with rheumatoid arthritis who are on glucocortiocoid therapy and who have glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis, alendronate (for treatment) and risedronate (for prevention and treatment) are approved.

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WebMD Public Information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health

Reviewed on August 01, 2005

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