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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoporosis

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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. It is a major health threat for an estimated 44 million Americans, 68 percent of whom are women.

Risk factors for developing osteoporosis include:

  • thinness or small frame
  • family history of the disease
  • being postmenopausal or having had early menopause
  • abnormal absence of menstrual periods (amenorrhea)
  • prolonged use of certain medications, such as glucocorticoids
  • low calcium intake
  • physical inactivity
  • smoking
  • excessive alcohol intake.

Osteoporosis is a silent disease that can often be prevented. However, if it goes undetected, it can progress for many years without symptoms until a fracture occurs.

The Rheumatoid Arthritis – Osteoporosis Link

Studies have found an increased risk of bone loss and fracture in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. People with rheumatoid arthritis are at increased risk for osteoporosis for many reasons. To begin with, the glucocorticoid medications often prescribed for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis can trigger significant bone loss. In addition, pain and loss of joint function caused by the disease can result in inactivity, further increasing osteoporosis risk. Studies also show that bone loss in rheumatoid arthritis may occur as a direct result of the disease. The bone loss is most pronounced in areas immediately surrounding the affected joints. Of concern is the fact that women, a group already at increased osteoporosis risk, are two to three times more likely than men to have rheumatoid arthritis as well.

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.

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