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What to Know About Osteoporosis

What Is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is more common than you think. Studies show that approximately one in two women and up to one in four men aged 50 and older will suffer from fractures due to osteoporosis.

Also known as “porous bones,” osteoporosis can occur in people of any age. In addition, about 54 million people in the United States have low bone mass, making them prone to osteoporosis without them knowing they have the condition until they break a bone.

A healthy bone looks like a honeycomb when viewed under a microscope. When osteoporosis occurs, the size of these holes and spaces are much larger causing the bone to lose strength and density and grow thinner. Osteoporotic bone breaks most likely affect the ribs, hips, wrists and spine and may happen while doing ordinary activities such as standing or walking or even coughing or sneezing.

Symptoms of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis develops slowly and causes no symptoms or warning signs during its early stages. When osteoporosis occurs in the spinal vertebrae, it can lead to changes in posture and curvature of the spine causing patients to hunch and lose height. Other early signs include:

  • Receding gums
  • Weakened grip strength
  • Weak and brittle nails
  • Permanent pain in the affected area

Causes

Several health problems and some medical procedures may contribute to bone loss, including:

  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Medical procedures such as gastrectomy and gastrointestinal bypass
  • Blood disorders
  • Blood and bone marrow disorders
  • Endocrine and hormonal disorders
  • Digestive and gastrointestinal disorders
  • Cancer
  • Neurological disorders and mental illness

Some medicines may also be harmful to your bones especially if you take the medication in high doses or for a long time. Steroids or medicines often referred to as glucocorticoids or corticosteroids may also cause bone loss or osteoporosis. Make it a habit to talk to your healthcare provider regarding the risks and benefits of any medication before starting any treatment for another medical condition.

Risk Factors for Osteoporosis

Although the body continually grows and generates new bone throughout a person’s life, bone density starts to weaken by mid-30s, breaking down bone faster than it is able to replace it. This causes the bone to become less dense and more fragile and prone to osteoporosis, especially when the breakdown occurs excessively.

Women are more prone to developing osteoporosis during menopause, which occurs around the ages of 45 to 55. Men continue to lose bone at this age as well but at a slower rate. However, by the time they reach the ages of 65 to 70, women and men usually lose bone at the same rate. Other risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Being female
  • Being Caucasian or Asian
  • Having a family history of osteoporosis
  • Poor nutrition
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Low body weight
  • Small-boned frame

Diagnosis

People suspected or at risk of developing osteoporosis are likely to undergo a bone density test. This painless test, also called bone densitometry or dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, uses X-rays to measure the density of the bones in your wrists, hips or spine and lasts from 10 to 30 minutes. Blood and urine tests may be conducted as well to check for other conditions that may be causing bone loss.

Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no known cure yet for osteoporosis, but with proper treatment, it can slow down the breakdown of bones in your body and some treatments can even help grow new bone. Your doctor may also prescribe lifestyle changes that include increasing intake of calcium and vitamin D and doing appropriate exercises that can help protect and strengthen your bones. Testosterone therapy may also help improve bone density in men. Women may also undergo hormone therapy at the onset of menopause to stop bone density loss. However, estrogen therapy has been linked with increased risk of blood clots, heart disease and certain types of cancer.

Prevention

Although many risk factors for osteoporosis are out of your control, certain changes to your lifestyle can reduce your likelihood of developing this painful and debilitating medical condition. Some of the best ways to prevent osteoporosis include:

  • Doing weight-bearing exercises such as leg presses, squats, pushups and even climbing stairs, to keep your bones as strong as possible
  • Eating foods rich in calcium and vitamin D
  • Taking a daily supplement of vitamin D
  • Giving up smoking and reducing alcohol consumption

Living With Osteoporosis

There are steps that you can do to prevent fractures, such as having regular sight tests and hearing tests and removing any hazards from your home, which can cause a trip or a fall.

If you are at risk of developing osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about the best possible treatment and ways to prevent it.

Sources:
National Osteoporosis Foundation
National Health Service
Healthline

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