Guest blog post by Liz Alhand
I have always been mindful of my health. I have worked in healthcare for over 40 years - first as a nurse, and later as a healthcare executive. I am passionate about health and have consistently made lifestyle choices that I thought were helping me maintain healthy bones. I was taking regular calcium supplements and made an effort to add Vitamin D to my diet as well.
Despite this, in 2006, I fractured my ankle from a fall on an uneven surface. Three years later, I fractured my other ankle the same way. Both times I visited an orthopedic surgeon, and no one on my healthcare team, including myself, thought it was strange that I had experienced multiple fractures from these seemingly low-impact falls. It wasn’t until a few years ago -- when I broke my hip -- that my primary care physician saw cause to refer me for a bone density test and Vitamin D blood test. The test revealed that I had progressed from osteopenia to osteoporosis which was likely related to entering menopause. And that’s when my journey back to bone health really began.
My primary care physician referred me to an endocrinologist who put me on a medication called TYMLOS. Because of my fracture history, I was considered to be at high risk for subsequent fracture. Every medication has its risks and benefits, and my providers helped me determine the treatment path that was right for me. In addition to my daily TYMLOS injection, I participated in physical therapy to help treat my hip after surgery. I decided to extend that physical therapy and focus on exercise that was beneficial to my bones—including weight-bearing exercise. I continued to make sure there was plenty of calcium—and Vitamin D to absorb that calcium—in my diet. 18 months later, my quality of life has drastically improved. I walk for an hour at least four times a week. I have not had any more fractures. And, after a year and a half of being diligent about my osteoporosis treatment, my latest scan showed that my bone density has increased by 50 percent.
I want to share my story with others because I was in the healthcare field, and yet I did not make the connection between my fractures and postmenopausal osteoporosis. The orthopedic surgeons that treated my fracture didn’t either. Osteoporosis and Vitamin D insufficiency are silent diseases, ones with often no visible symptoms until a fracture occurs—and even then can go undiagnosed. We are instructed to use sunscreen to prevent cancer, but never told that some sunshine is needed to gain Vitamin D, which is instrumental in the absorption of natural and supplemental calcium. It is so important for women to learn their risk and proactively bring postmenopausal osteoporosis up to their physicians if their physicians are not bringing it to their attention. We can and should make lifestyle changes to benefit our bones, but we need to be our own healthcare advocates too. Osteoporosis was never on my radar because I was very active and had taken calcium supplements since I was 20 years old. I made healthy lifestyle choices, and I took my vitamins. I honestly never thought osteoporosis could happen to me because I was so healthy. That’s why I want others to understand how important it is that we know what red flags to look for, that we be our own healthcare advocates and request a bone density scan -- a painless, quick test that provides baseline understanding for whether we have osteoporosis, or osteopenia, which is low bone density. I was lucky to eventually find a provider who connected the dots between my fractures and their root cause, but if I had known more about osteoporosis, I would have requested a bone density and Vitamin D test much sooner.
I will be forever thankful to the compassionate, skilled healthcare professionals who helped me manage my osteoporosis and regain my health. Osteoporosis is a disease that can not only rob us of healthy bones, but quality of life too. That’s why it’s so important we empower ourselves to learn how to reduce our risk, be our own healthcare advocates, and treat osteoporosis early. In doing so, we can protect our ability to live our best life.
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Guest blog post by Liz Alhand