Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoporosis
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
- 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.