Osteoporosis: Risks, Symptoms and Treatment
Osteoporosis is a common bone disease. It’s a name that comes from Latin for “porous bones.” Osteoporosis disease makes bones weak, thin, brittle and more likely to break. This can most times be as a result to absent of calcium in the body. Know as, calcium deficiency disease. Calcium is a vital mineral the body needs to make your bone stay healthy. Your body uses it to build strong bones and teeth. Calcium is also needed for your heart and other muscles to function properly. When you don’t get enough calcium, you increase your risk of developing disorders like:
- Calcium deficiency disease (hypocalcemia).
Osteoporosis can occur in people of any age, but it’s more common in older adults, especially women. The condition typically occurs in women after menopause and can increase the risk of fractures, especially in the hip, spine and wrist, according to the National Institutes of Health.
According to a report, more than 53 million people in the United States either have osteoporosis or are at high risk of developing it.
People with osteoporosis are at a high risk of fractures, or bone breaks, while doing routine activities such as standing or walking. The most commonly affected bones are the ribs, hips, and the bones in the wrists and spine. The condition is often called a “silent disease” because bone loss can happen slowly and without any warning signs. People may not be aware they have osteoporosis until they break a bone, lose height or develop hunched posture.
There are a number of factors that may lead to osteoporosis, said Dr. Harold Rosen, an endocrinologist and director of the Osteoporosis Prevention and Treatment Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. One such factor is the accelerated bone loss that occurs after menopause, he said.
Men also lose bone as they age, normally once they’re in their 60s and 70s, Rosen said. Some men think osteoporosis affects only women, but it strikes men too, he explained.
The body needs a good supply of calcium and other minerals to form bone, and vitamin D helps absorb calcium from food and incorporate the nutrient into bone. In addition, unhealthy habits, such as smoking and excessive drinking, can speed up bone loss, he said.
Can Osteoporosis Be Prevented?
The more bone a person builds early in life, the better that individual can resist bone loss later on. There are many risk factors for osteoporosis that you cannot control. These include being female, getting older, and having a family history of osteoporosis. There are some factors, however, that do fall within your control.
Some of the best ways to prevent osteoporosis include:
- getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D
- doing weight-bearing exercises
- stopping smoking
- for women, weighing the pros and cons of hormone therapy
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol consumption, reduces bone loss.
If you’re at risk of developing osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about the best way to prevent it.
Osteoporosis Risk Factors
According to the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and another 18 million are at risk of developing it. The following are some factors that put you at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis:.
- Age: Bones typically become thinner and weaker with age.
- Sex: Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men, because women have less bone tissue and lose bone faster after menopause.
- Body size: Petite and thin people are at greater risk of this condition because they have less bone to lose than people with larger frames and more body weight.
- Ethnicity: White and Asian women have the highest risk of osteoporosis, while African American and Hispanic women have a lower risk.
- Family history: People whose parents had a hip fracture may be more likely to develop the disease.
- Nutrition: Eating a diet that’s low in calcium and vitamin D.
- Being a couch potato: Not getting enough physical activity or too much bed rest following an injury, illness or surgery weakens bones over time.
- Medications: Using certain drugs on a long-term basis can lead to bone loss. These medicines include corticosteroids, such as prednisone; heparin, a blood thinner; selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressants; and aromatase inhibitors, used to treat breast cancer.
- Unhealthy habits: Smoking and consuming too much alcohol can both increase bone loss.
- Medical problems: Numerous health conditions and diseases can also increase a person’s risk for osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis Symptoms And Diagnosis
The early stages of osteoporosis don’t cause any symptoms or warning signs. In most cases, people with osteoporosis don’t know they have the condition until they have a fracture or fall that causes a bone to break. Some people will experience a loss of height over time or a stooped posture as a result of a broken vertebrae and curvature of the spine.
If symptoms do appear, some of the earlier ones may include:
- receding gums
- weakened grip strength
- weak and brittle nails
If you don’t have symptoms but have a family history of osteoporosis, talking to your doctor can help you assess your risk. Other symptoms may include back pain, or tooth loss, if osteoporosis has affected the jawbone.
Hip fracture is another serious consequence of osteoporosis. About 20% of older adults who fracture a hip die within one year from complications of the broken bone or the surgery needed to repair it, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
Doctors may perform a bone mineral density (BMD) test to determine if a patient has osteoporosis, according to the Mayo Clinic. The test uses a special X-ray machine to measure the mineral content at three different bone sites, typically the hip, the spine and the top of the femur. The scan can reveal if a person has low bone mass at any of these three bone sites by comparing the patient’s bone density to the normal bone density in a healthy 30-year-old person of the same sex.
Complications Of Osteoporosis
In addition to making you more susceptible to breaks and fractures, osteoporosis can lead to other complications:
Osteoporosis can be disabling and limit your physical activity. A loss of activity can make you gain weight and increase stress on your bones, in particular your knees and hips. Gaining weight can also increase your risk of other problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Less physical activity can lead to a loss of independence and isolation. Activities you once enjoyed may be too painful now. This loss, added to the fear of fractures, can bring on depression. A poor emotional state can further hinder your ability to manage health issues. A positive, forward-thinking outlook is helpful when approaching any medical issue.
Fractures caused by osteoporosis can be severely painful and debilitating. Fractures of the spine can result in a loss of height, a stooping posture, and persistent back and neck pain.
Some people with osteoporosis break a bone and don’t even notice it. Most broken bones need hospital care. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2012 there were 250,000 hospital admissions for hip fractures in people 65 years of age and older. Surgery is often needed for this procedure, which can lead to long hospital stays and high costs.
Nursing Home Care
All too often, hip fractures can lead to long-term care in nursing homes. People who are bedridden are subject to cardiovascular complications, more exposed to infectious diseases, and susceptible to various other complications.
Osteoporosis Treatment And Medications
If your testing shows that you have osteopenia as well as those with osteoporosis need medication to reduce their risk of fractures. Your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan. Your doctor will likely prescribe medications as well as lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes can include increasing your intake of calcium and vitamin D, as well as getting appropriate exercise.
Once a person has started treatment for osteoporosis, bone-density testing should be repeated every two to three years to monitor how the density is changing and whether treatment is working, Rosen said.
There’s no cure for osteoporosis, but proper treatment can help protect and strengthen your bones. These treatments can help slow the breakdown of bone in your body, and some treatments can spur the growth of new bone.
In addition to medication, people with osteoporosis should aim to include 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day in their diet, from food or supplements (preferably calcium citrate), Rosen said. He also recommends taking 1,500 to 2,000 International Units (IU) of supplemental vitamin D each day.
Being physically active is also beneficial for people with osteoporosis. Rosen recommends regular workouts that include weight-bearing aerobic activity, as well as strength training, balance and posture exercises.
Although there is no permanent cure for osteoporosis, there are many things you can do to treat symptoms, strengthen your body, and slow the progression of the disease. Try to focus on minimizing its symptoms and don’t let other complications arise. If osteoporosis has diminished your quality of life, talk with your doctor about possible solutions, especially if you are experiencing signs of depression, and seek assistance at home from family and friends. Keep a positive outlook on life and don’t view changes in usual activities as a loss of independence.
- Download a helpful brochure from Osteoporosis Canada on managing osteoporosis through exercise.
- Learn more about osteoporosis in men from the National Institutes of Health.