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NIH Announces Recommendations to Better Inform About Osteoporosis

Aired March 29, 2000 - 2:39 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Americans spend $10 to $15 billion a year treating osteoporosis. The bone-thinning disease takes an emotional toll as well, with 80 percent of older women saying they would prefer death to a bad hip fracture. A panel of experts is working on a way to treat and prevent osteoporosis.

CNN's Rhonda Rowland is here with the details on this.

RHONDA ROWLAND, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, osteoporosis was once thought to be an inevitable part of aging. But that view has changed, as progress has been made against the disease.

The National Institutes of Health just announced recommendations to better inform doctors and their patients. First, scientists outlined the scope of the problem, which is immense. Osteoporosis and the chance of having a hip fracture or a fracture in the spine or wrist does increase with age. The chance that a 50-year-old will have a hip fracture during the rest of his or her lifetime is 14 percent for a white female and 6 percent for a white male. The risk for African-Americans is lower, and researchers are not quite sure why.

Since scientists first came up with a consensus on osteoporosis in 1984, treatment options have improved significantly. Calcium and vitamin D continue to be important in increasing bone density and reducing fractures. Estrogen replacement therapy after menopause is established for treatment and prevention, but in recent years scientists have discovered several new drug therapies. Both Fosamax and Actonel reduce fractures. Another type of drug that mimics the good effects of estrogen, called Evista, prevents spinal fractures.

But probably the most important message from the consensus is prevention -- and it starts early, in childhood. The amount of bone mass accumulated after adolescence is probably the important predictor of future bone problems. So children need to get enough calcium between the ages of 3 and 17, but only 25 percent of boys and 10 percent of girls meet the dietary recommendations.

Scientists also emphasize the importance of exercise. Getting enough early in life contributes to higher peak bone mass. But there's also evidence that getting regular exercise throughout life and even beyond age 90 can protect bones -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Now is there a consensus from scientists on the best way to diagnose it?

ROWLAND: That's a very important question, because that was very controversial today. There is a simple bone X-ray screening test that's called bone densotometry. It was made available in the late 1980s. And some doctors thought we'd reach the point where all women would get it on a routine basis, just like a cholesterol test or a mammogram. But the problem is they can't seem to really standardize that test. So, Kyra, they have to still continue working on the best way to diagnose it. So that's why it's so important for us to continue work on taking care of ourselves and preventing it.

PHILLIPS: I can't argue with that. Rhonda Rowland, thank you.

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