Bone health, artery blockage, carbon monoxide concerns all rise with age

March 6, 2019

Q.  What increases my chances of breaking a bone?

For several reasons, seniors are in danger of breaking a bone. As we age, the power of our senses, reflexes and coordination diminishes. Maladies and the medicines we take for them can contribute to balance problems, which can lead to falls. Then there's osteoporosis – a disease that makes bones more likely to snap. 

You may be in danger of having weak bones and should check with a doctor if you: smoke, are in poor health, are over 65, fractured a bone after age 50, have a close relative with osteoporosis, are underweight, started menopause before age 45, never got enough calcium, have more than two drinks of alcohol several times a week, or are inactive.

The following are medical conditions that can weaken your bones: hyperthyroidism, chronic lung disease, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic liver or kidney disease, hyperparathyroidism, vitamin D deficiency, Cushing's disease, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. 

The following also put your bones at risk: oral glucocorticoids (steroids), radiation, chemotherapy, thyroid medicine, antiepileptic drugs, gonadal hormone suppression, and immunosuppressive agents.

Because of the way bones are made, they also get stronger with regular but not excessive exercise. If a person is active, bones will become stronger and more dense. The bones of an inactive person are often not as strong and may fracture more easily than those of an active person. For this reason, older people should try to remain physically active.

Q.  How dangerous is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (chemical symbol CO) is a colorless and odorless gas that can kill you. CO is a byproduct of combustion. It comes out of car tailpipes, gas ovens, fireplaces and heating systems. Red blood cells absorb CO more readily than they pick up oxygen. If there is a lot of CO in the air, the body may replace oxygen in blood with CO. This blocks oxygen from getting into the body, which can hurt you and eventually kill you.

People with chronic heart disease, anemia, or respiratory problems are more susceptible to the effects of CO. And many seniors fit into one or more of those categories.

The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, irregular breathing, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. You should go outdoors and breathe some fresh air immediately if you suspect CO poisoning. Then get medical attention right away. If you stay in the house, you could become unconscious and die.

Next to preventing the production of CO, the best defense against this lethal gas is a CO alarm. CO gas distributes evenly and quickly throughout the house. A CO detector should be installed outside bedrooms to alert sleeping residents.

Q.  My doctor said I have good carotids. What did she mean?

Your doctor checked your carotid arteries on the sides of your neck to see if the blood flow was blocked. Apparently, she felt your carotids are in good shape.

Carotid arteries run from the aorta – the main trunk of the arterial system – up to your brain. When these vessels become blocked, you have carotid artery disease, which can cause a stroke.

The chances of developing this disease increase with age. About 1 percent of people in their 50s have significantly blocked carotid arteries, but 10 percent of people in their 80s have carotid artery disease.

As you age, a sticky substance called plaque, which contains cholesterol, can accumulate on the inside walls of your arteries. The process is called atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.

The amount of blockage in a carotid artery determines the risk of having a stroke. If the blockage becomes severe enough, you may need surgery to open the blood flow to your brain. 

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