Steven Perkins, D.O.
Family Medicine, Prenatal Care
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Q&A: Surprising, but normal, changes in aging bodies
Some surprising changes can occur as your body gets older. Learn what's natural to expect, what's not and simple steps to delay or lessen the changes.
Q. I used to be 6 feet tall. Now I'm 5 feet, 11 inches tall. What's up with that?
A. As you age, several changes occur within your body that causes you to lose some height. Some are normal and some are not. You have 24 bones, or vertebrae, in your spine. Discs between each vertebra begin to lose strength and become thinner as you age. When these vertebrae begin to thin out, you will start to shrink little by little. After age 35, the natural bone remodeling process becomes a bit disordered, and you break down our bones faster than you rebuild them, so the bones become thinner. You can help prevent this bone breakdown to a significant degree through weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, jogging, aerobics, weightlifting, resistance training, and a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. You also should talk to your health care provider about whether you are a candidate for osteoporosis screening through bone density testing.
Q. Ugh, I didn't drink that much. Why do I feel so terrible today?
A. Maybe you had a little too much fun celebrating a favorite team's victory last night, but didn't drink as many as you used to. So why do you feel so bad today? As you age, your metabolism slows, and the number and efficiency of liver cells declines in such a way that you can't clear the alcohol from your system like you used to. As a result, alcohol builds to higher levels longer than normal. Therefore, you have a higher likelihood of a hangover as you age. You can't do much to make your liver work better, but you can do a couple of things to help with this process. Drink more water and less alcohol. Drinking water before, during and after will help you feel much better the next day. If you or others feel like alcohol use is becoming a problem for you, please speak to your health care provider about getting the help that you need to reduce or eliminate alcohol from your life.
Q. I leak when I laugh and at other times, too. What am I to do?
A. Urinary leakage, known as urinary incontinence, is a common problem for women. This problem results from several causes, including pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, overactive bladder muscles, weakened pelvic muscles and nerve damage. There are many types of incontinence, and the right treatment requires the proper diagnosis. Making the right diagnosis likely will include a complete history of the symptoms; a physical exam; some urine testing; and perhaps some more advanced studies, such as urodynamic testing or ultrasound and X-ray imaging. Treatments are helpful and range from behavioral modifications, dietary changes, pelvic muscle strengthening, medications and surgery. Talk to your health care provider as soon as you are ready, and solutions will follow.
Q. Why am I in the bathroom again?
A. Getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, or nocturia, is a problem for many people. Up to one-third of men over 30 make at least two trips to the bathroom after they've gone to bed. This is most commonly caused by benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH, which is an enlarged prostate. There are, however, other causes, including medications, alcohol, caffeine, nighttime drinking and dietary habits, diabetes, heart conditions and sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea. The treatment of nocturia requires a proper diagnosis. This happens through a visit to your health care provider. This visit will include a history, exam and simple laboratory testing to start. Treatments may include behavioral modifications, dietary changes, medications or surgical intervention. Contact your health care provider if this is a problem that you want remedied.
Learn more about aging to help you live your healthiest life.
Steven Perkins, D.O., is a Family Medicine physician in La Crosse, Wisconsin