Asthma and Osteoporosis

There is an indirect link between asthma and osteoporosis. People with asthma may avoid dairy products in the belief that dairy products cause asthma (they don't), or they may avoid exercises that help strengthen bones because of exercise-induced asthma (this can lead to bone loss). If your doctor is concerned about a possible link between your asthma and osteoporosis, he or she may recommend a bone density test.

Asthma and Osteoporosis: An Introduction

Asthma, by itself, does not pose a threat to bone health. However, certain medications used to treat the disease, and some behaviors triggered by concern over the disease, can have a negative impact on the skeleton.

Asthma: An Overview

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects between 12 and 14 million Americans, more than 4 million of whom are under the age of 18. Asthma is becoming more common, and African Americans are especially at risk. For a person with asthma, everyday things can trigger an asthma attack, such as:
  • Air pollution
  • Allergens
  • Exercise
  • Infection
  • Emotional upset
  • Certain foods.
Typical asthma symptoms include coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, a rapid heart rate, and sweating. Children with asthma often complain of an itchy upper chest or develop a dry cough, which may be their only sign of asthma.

The Connection Between Asthma and Osteoporosis

People with asthma tend to be at an increased risk for osteoporosis, especially in the spine, for several reasons. First, anti-inflammatory medications, known as corticosteroids, are commonly prescribed for asthma. Taken orally, these medications can decrease calcium absorbed from food, increase calcium loss from the kidneys, and decrease bone formation. Corticosteroids can also interfere with the production of sex hormones in both women and men, which can contribute to bone loss, and they can cause muscle weakness, which can increase the risk of falling.
Many asthma sufferers think that milk and dairy products trigger asthma attacks, although there is little evidence to support this belief, unless the person also has a dairy allergy. Unfortunately, this often results in an unnecessary avoidance of dairy products, and is especially damaging for asthmatic children, who need calcium to build strong bones.
Because exercise often can trigger an asthma attack, many people with asthma avoid weight-bearing physical activities that are known to strengthen bones. Those who remain physically active often choose swimming as their exercise of choice, because it is the least likely activity to trigger an asthmatic attack. Unfortunately, swimming does not have the same beneficial impact on bone health as weight-bearing exercises that work the body against gravity, such as:
  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Racquet sports
  • Basketball
  • Volleyball
  • Aerobics
  • Dancing
  • Weight training.
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