Low bone mineral density and heart disease

The strength of a person’s bones can be linked to the strength of heart and the likelihood of heart disease. The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports low bone mineral density (BMD) is found in many who develop cardiovascular disease (CVD). The NIH specifically cited a connection between low BMD and coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular conditions (stroke) and cardiovascular-related death. Heart attacks are the most common cause of death and stroke is the fifth most common cause. Monitoring bone density is wise not only in observing the probability of fractures and broken bones but in looking for issues that may be signs of heart disease.

Bones are usually the strongest in people in their thirties. With aging, it is not unusual for bone density to decrease. This can result in osteopenia, a weakening of the bones, or osteoporosis, in which the bones are not only weak but are more inclined to fracture or break. Osteopenia and osteoporosis are usually found in people over age fifty.

About fifty percent of broken bones in women age fifty and older are related to osteoporosis as opposed to about twenty-five percent in men of the same age. Women generally have a lower bone density than men and as they age, the probability of osteoporosis is higher. Longevity is also higher in women and the longer they live, the more their bone density will decrease.

How low BMD affects the heart

In addition to increased fractures and broken bones, low BMD is also related to problems in the vertebrae. This could result in pain, loss of height and a bent posture. Of people who develop cardiovascular disease, there is often evidence of vertebral compression and broken bones. A study by the American Heart Association (AHA) also revealed that 38% of people with osteoporosis also had atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heartbeat. AFib can increase the risk of stroke up to five times if left untreated.Additionally, the risk of osteoporosis is higher in people with type 1 diabetes, according to AHA. Of people sixty-five years old or older who have diabetes, 68% are likely to die from heart disease.

Diagnosing osteoporosis

Osteoporosis literally means “porous bones.” As the body ages, bones become weak when density decreases. As the connection between low BMD and heart disease has become more apparent, physicians and cardiologists now look for signs of it more regularly in scheduled physical examinations. X-rays can detect spinal irregularities that signal possible low BMD.

More specific tests include a dual-energy-x-ray absorptiometry (DXA), a low-level x-ray that is very accurate in detecting bone density loss. Specific x-rays for various parts of the body, such as the hip, wrist, spine, forearm or heel may also be used.

Treating osteoporosis benefits the heart         

Exercise ranks high among the most common and successful treatments for osteoporosis. It also has an enormous benefit for the cardiovascular system. Activities ranging from brisk walking, yard work and climbing stairs to hiking or dancing help strengthen bones and the heart. Additionally, exercise increases muscle strength, physical coordination and flexibility.

It is important to discuss any exercise program with a physician or cardiologist, especially if there is already evidence of low BMD or heart disease.

Diet is also important for both heart and bone health. A common factor in those with low bone density is a lack of enough calcium and vitamin D. Good dietary sources for these are low-fat, milk, broccoli, salmon, and leafy green vegetables. Avoiding excess caffeine and alcohol is also recommended because they reduce the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Reducing the amount of red meat in the diet is also beneficial.

Medication to improve bone strength is also available. Bisphosphonates are among the most commonly prescribed medicines for osteoporosis. They strengthen bones and reduce the probability of fractures. Hormonal therapy is another treatment option. The impact of any low BMD medication on the cardiovascular system should be considered before being prescribed.

To learn more about the relationship between heart disease and bone mineral density, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.